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How Caregivers Can Help With MS Tests and Medical Appointments

Learn what you can do to help a loved one with multiple sclerosis deal with medical tests and treatments.

Medical tests and doctors' appointments are a regular part of life for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Your loved one will have routine appointments with doctors and possibly other members of the medical team, during which various tests may be done to evaluate how he or she is doing generally as well as the effectiveness of the treatment plan.

Exactly which tests are required depends on such things as the medications a person is taking and any symptoms the person is experiencing.

Tests can range from simple blood draws to spinal taps (where spinal fluid is extracted from the lower back with a needle), MRIs, and assessments of mobility and function.

Of course, people with MS need other types of medical care, too, such as routine cancer screenings and dental cleanings, and they may need help with those appointments as well.

The amount of help and the types of help needed will vary from person to person.

It's likely that as MS progresses, your loved one will need more physical help getting to appointments and navigating medical facilities, as well as more assistance with the organizational tasks needed to manage a treatment regimen.

How to Help With Medical Appointments

Family members, friends, and other caregivers can help a person with MS at medical appointments in a number of ways. If MS has affected a person's memory, concentration, or comprehension, it can be helpful to have someone at the appointment to keep track of details about medication changes, lab tests that need to be done, specialist referrals, and anything else that comes up.

Some other ways to be helpful include the following:

  • Giving the person a ride to the appointment or accompanying him on public transportation
  • Taking notes on what is said during the appointment and any instructions for home care
  • Asking questions about symptoms, treatment, and other concerns
  • Letting the medical professional know what you have observed in terms of symptoms or problems

"MS patients often have dexterity and vision problems, so they can have difficulty writing or filling out forms and might want a family member or someone else along who can help," says Nicholas LaRocca, PhD, vice president of health care delivery and policy research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

To make sure you are helping and not taking over, the United Hospital Fund’s family caregiver guide to doctor visits suggests the following:

  • Caregiver and patient should discuss the purpose of the visit and what they wish to accomplish before sitting down with the doctor. They may also want to agree on who will bring up which topics during the visit.
  • Talk ahead of time about how to bring up sensitive topics.
  • Allow the patient to have time alone with the doctor or other healthcare provider if desired.
  • The caregiver can also request time to speak privately to the doctor.
  • Follow up after the visit to discuss what went well and what you could do differently next time.

How to Help With Medical Tests

Most clinics provide written directions for upcoming medical tests, but people with MS may still need someone to help them follow the directions and find their way to the lab or clinic where the tests will be conducted.

People who have mobility problems may need help getting to the lab or clinic or getting around a large hospital.

"If you go to a hospital for testing, very often there are very great distances that you have to travel," Dr. LaRocca says. "And although hospitals are supposed to be accessible, they are not always as accessible as you would like them to be. It may be very tiring for someone with MS to navigate long hallways."

A helper can locate a wheelchair for the person with MS and push it to the lab or treatment room.

Going to the restroom in a medical facility or collecting a urine sample for a test can also pose obstacles for people with mobility problems, and a caregiver may need to help. Often, the person does not want to ask for help from strangers for these tasks, LaRocca says, and medical personnel are not always available.

Getting onto exam tables or staying in place in front of imaging equipment can also be a challenge for people with MS.

"Although there may be assistance available from hospital staff, most people prefer to have someone they know around to help as well," says LaRocca.

In addition to mobility problems, people with MS often suffer from profound fatigue that typically hits in the mid- to late afternoon.

RELATED: 9 Common MS Symptoms

"This again can be a problem in a medical facility, particularly if you have to navigate long distances," says LaRocca. "That would make it important for a caregiver to be there."

Assisting Before and After a Medical Test

If a test requires some sort of preparation beforehand — such as following a special diet — a caregiver may be called upon to help with that.

And though most tests do not have long-term effects, some MS tests, such as spinal taps, require recovery time.

"Many individuals get headaches after spinal taps and need to spend some time lying down in bed,” says John Richert, MD, executive vice president of research and clinical programs for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “So the caregiver will have to be there for them during that time."

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by EVERYDAYHEALTH
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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