All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for July 2003

Caregivers must remember to care for themselves

Fri, Jul. 18, 2003
Mary Reiley
The Contra Costa Times

WHO CARES for the caregivers? People who care for loved ones with multiple sclerosis are being encouraged by the Northern California Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to care for themselves.

The chapter is sponsoring "Wellness for Care Partners," 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 26 at Fern Cottage, Kennedy Grove Park, El Sobrante. The five hours are set aside to teach those supporters how to pamper and support themselves.

Known as MS, multiple sclerosis is a chronic, incurable and unpredictable but treatable disease that attacks the central nervous system. It affects more women than men and is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.

Although it is not life threatening, it is life changing, both for the people diagnosed with it and the spouses, partners, children, parents or others who care for them.

Dr. Joanna Cooper, a neurologist at East Bay Neurology in Berkeley, called MS a family illness.

"It's a disease that needs a lot of emotional and physical family support," Cooper said. "Caregivers need to get support for themselves."

Beyond the physical challenges presented by the disease, such as muscle weakness and severe fatigue, is the difficulty of dealing with the memory impairment that sometimes comes with MS.

Pamela Choice and Ellen Locke of El Cerrito were together for about a year when Locke was diagnosed with MS 11 years ago. Her symptoms include cognitive impairment, Choice said, so they make sure to write things down.

"One of the ways I manage is to be clear about boundaries," Choice said. "I find it helpful to have structure and communication, and to have my own time separate from my spouse.

"You can't take good care of someone else if you're not taking care of yourself."

The July 26 day of self-care and relaxation will include information on self-massage techniques, presented by certified massage therapist Marianne Smylie, and a talk by Dee Benefield of the Integral Yoga Institute in San Francisco on "Laughing Meditation."

Josephine McCord, a family consultant with Family Caregiver Alliance, will speak on "Taking Care of You," encouraging caregivers to acknowledge their own needs.

"Some people feel they just can't take time for themselves," McCord said. "They feel they must devote all their time to the person with MS. It creates a very stressful situation."

McCord's talk address the importance of getting a break from caregiving and managing stress. A question-and-answer period will follow.

Information will also be available on respite care, resources for long-term care and other services of interest to those giving support and care to people with MS.

Admission to the Kennedy Grove event is free, but donations are welcome to help defray the costs.

For more information, visit or call Linda Zukowski at 800-344-4867. For information on MS, visit

Copyright © 2003, The Contra Costa Times