A Valentine for MS
Relationships with loved ones can be difficult at the best of times, not least when living with the daily challenges of multiple sclerosis. There is a common belief that there’s a high rate of marital breakdown and divorce among people with MS – but this isn’t necessarily so. Recent studies have found that women with MS don’t appear to be more likely to get divorced than other people.
An analysis of the Swedish MS registry looked at the divorce rate over a 35-year period for about four thousand people with MS and compared it with divorces in the general population (Landfeldt and colleagues. Mult Scler Relat Disord 2018;24:145-150). The average age was 44 years. Overall, the divorce rate for women with MS was similar to what was seen in women without MS. Men with MS weren’t as fortunate – their risk of divorce was 21% higher than in the general population.
Similar results were reported in Denmark (Pfleger and colleagues. Mult Scler 2010;16:878-882). In that study, 86% of people with MS had no change in their relationship status in the five years after being diagnosed, which was similar to what was seen in the general population. However, there was an increasing risk over time, especially among those who didn’t have children. As in the Swedish study, the divorce rate was higher among men with MS.
A study in England found that marital status didn’t change for most people with MS over a 15-year period (Hakim and colleagues. Disabil Rehabil 2000;22:288-293).
MS imposes many stresses as people adapt to changing circumstances – stresses that the life partner also feels. An Italian study asked these significant others about living with a person with MS and the difficulties they faced (Morales-Gonzales and colleagues. Mult Scler 2004;10:47-54). They said their greatest difficulties were the financial problems that MS can cause, their difficulties in coming to terms with their loved one’s MS diagnosis, the feeling that they don’t get enough support from family members. Caregivers’ needs are often seen as being less urgent, so their emotional needs (and health) often take a back seat.
MS is an illness that affects the whole family. Meeting the many challenges of MS will be easier if both partners work together, learning and accommodating how each person finds ways of coping with the illness.
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