Wintery weather + multiple sclerosis = difficult times

Mon 28 January 2013

Chef Trevis

While frosted window panes, ice-tipped trees and snowy laneways may be the stuff of a 19th century Currier and Ives painting of winter, they can make living with MS very difficult indeed.

Coping with cold

Firstly, there’s the cold! While heat-related issues are far more common for most people living with MS, I’ve noticed a lot of people mentioning how cold weather affects their symptoms.

In fact, people have commented on my Facebook page about how their symptoms are particularly difficult in the cold. Spasticity, rigidity, pain and even depression were anecdotally reported to be increased during winter months for some people living with MS.

Getting around

I remember climbing a mountain in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands when I was a young Coast Guardsman - in my boat shoes. Today, over a decade after my MS diagnosis, the idea of a flat surface with the faintest bit of frost has me reaching for crampons and an ice axe! Many of us have difficulty walking as it is, without Jack Frost painting an ice rink out our front steps.

Uneven surfaces – even a simple flooring change – can be an issue even in a house that I know well. When piles and drifts of snow block my way, I really have to double think whether or not that trip outside is required.

Driving can also be difficult, and for disabled people who rely on public transport like buses, the extra passengers using such vehicles, coupled with often reduced schedules, can make getting from point A to point B difficult at best and near impossible at worst.

The economy of cold weather can hit someone on a fixed income due to MS particularly hard as well.

Dealing with winter weather: top tips

Eight months ago we posted a blog on how to keep cool during your unseasonable hot weather. Now, this cold snap has us turning to the other end of the thermometer.

Whatever your symptoms and however they might increase or (here’s hoping) decrease in the cold, there a few tips for dealing with these winter outbursts:

  • Register with the appropriate medical or social needs registries.
  • If you travel in a wheelchair, wrap a small blanket around your legs (tucking it underneath yourself or around your sides) to help maintain body heat. You could also consider a waterproof quilt to help keep you snug.
  • If you receive home-based care, include caregivers in developing your cold weather plan and familiarise yourself with your homecare agency’s emergency plan.
  • If you have a pet or service animal, plan for their needs (remember, dogs also can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite). Get a dog coat to place under the harness, and consider getting boots for the paws. Also, have a dog blanket in your vehicle.
  • If you rely on home-delivered meals, always stock non-perishable food at home in case meal deliveries are suspended during an emergency.
  • Have a plan with your doctor that addresses emergency prescription refills, if possible.
  • If you rely on medical equipment that requires electric power, contact your medical supply company for information regarding a back-up power source such as a battery.
  • Take Your Time! Arriving late is better than arriving on time to the Emergency Department at your local hospital.

I’m sure many of you have hard-earned tips you can share for surviving the cold and snowy forecast - feel free to leave a comment.

Wishing you and your family the best of health.