age's affects on multiple sclerosis

How Age Affects Multiple Sclerosis

2.5 million people around the world suffer from multiple sclerosis and about 200 new cases are diagnosed a week. But because MS is a chronic disease and not a terminal one, cases span across all ages, and the effects on older people versus younger people can be different.

Initial Diagnosis

MS is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, although while nearly 10% of cases involve children, it is rare for someone over the age of 50 to be diagnosed. Generally, people are initially diagnosed with what is known as the “relapse” form of MS. This form of the disease is when there are periods of active symptoms, also known as bursts, followed by periods of less severe symptoms.

The symptoms between diagnosed adults and diagnosed kids in the “relapse” form of this condition are consistent, but the prognosis for individuals diagnosed when they are children is still considered worse than if they were diagnosed as an adult. This is because 90% of people with MS progress to a stage of the disease known as secondary progressive MS.

Secondary Progressive MS

Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis is still characterized by periods of active symptoms but there are often new developing symptoms as the disease visibly progresses in the form of increasing disability. The stage of secondary progressive MS is normally reached 5 to 15 years after diagnosis on average, but the rate at which a person reaches this stage varies based on the age at which they were initially diagnosed.

It is statistically proven the children diagnosed with MS progress to the secondary progressive stage at a much slower rate than diagnosed adults, taking an average of 32 years where an adult takes on average 18. However, children diagnosed with MS statistically still reach the secondary stage early than adults. A 35-year-old diagnosed with MS as an adult, for example, would have less disability than a 35-year-old diagnosed with MS as a child.

People Over 50

While it is rarer for someone over 50 to be diagnosed for the first time with MS, the effect of the disease on an individual does change the older they get. The symptoms of MS often overlap with the changes of age, whether they be mental or physical. These can include visual changes, balance problems, cognitive impairments, and muscle weakness.

Because of the mobility problems and disability that increase not only with age but with MS, it is more like for an older person with MS to forgo physical activity. This can not only result in them missing important doctor’s appointments for MS or other health conditions but also makes them more susceptible to heart disease because of the lack of exercise. Older people with MS are also more likely to develop pneumonia, a urinary tract infection, a blood infection, also known as septicemia, and a bacterial skin infection known as cellulitis than someone without MS.

With regard to the emotional state of older people with MS in comparison to people under 50 with MS, there is little record of severe differences however, the older individuals are less likely to experience emotions stress as a result of a decreased ability to move than younger people. Older people with multiple sclerosis are also more likely to experience suicidal thoughts than a younger person or someone who does not have MS.

MS is not proven to significantly impact one’s lifespan because it is not a terminal disease. The average lifespan of an individual with MS is 75.9 years and the average lifespan of an individual without MS is 83.4.


If you have questions regarding these or other concerns for the Aurum Network, contact us or call 978-282-9551. To locate a community within the Aurum Network, use our facility locator tool.


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