Air conditioning is on the minds of many Canadians battling summer heat, but for those with MS or Multiple Sclerosis staying cool has a very different meaning.

Every day, three more people in Canada are diagnosed with MS and women are more than twice as likely to develop this often difficult to diagnose neurological disease, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada (MSSC). For reasons that remain unclear, Canadians have one of the highest rates of MS in the world. This disease usually appears between ages 15 and 40 – prime income-earning years -- but it can affect children as young as 2. For the estimated 55,000 to 70,000 Canadians with MS, air conditioning can make life easier and reduce symptoms. Many MS sufferers are quite house-bound during a hot summer.

Although there are treatments for MS, there is no cure. Multiple sclerosis is a complex, unpredictable disease that affects vision, hearing, memory, energy levels, balance and mobility and, therefore, disrupts most aspects of daily life. Heat makes symptoms worse, may increase pain or numbness, and can trigger debilitating MS attacks.

Through 120 chapters across Canada, volunteers and staff provide information, offer regionally-relevant support, sponsor local educational events and create other resources for those with MS and for their families. One widely-adopted program extends financial assistance for sufferers who otherwise can not afford air conditioning. As yet, there have been no widespread donations of air conditioning equipment nor substantial discounts for purchasers with MS who must buy air conditioners.

Canadians with MS live near-normal life spans, but their quality of life is impacted. Those who rely on a caregiver -- spouse, parent or child -- for help with day-to-day activities also require appropriate housing. Funding and support varies provincially, but MSSC will provide guidance locating the best resources and in navigating bureaucracy when home modifications are necessary.

"The symptoms of MS vary greatly from person to person, depending on the type and stage, however, there are so many cases of people living fulfilling lives with the disease, so, seek out more information!" said MSSC spokesperson Stewart Wong. "The MS Society builds awareness and reduces fear and then gets into specific issues and needs for the individual. When there's a mobility device involved, then we start thinking about modifying the house. Is the hallway wide enough to make a turn with walker or wheel chair? Are door frames wide enough? How much carpeting do they have? Is this multiple level housing which may not be appropriate -- like a narrow semi? ... What we take for granted when we do not have MS!"

Reduction in income-earning is a common side-effect. Here are some starting points for assistance with income loss and home modification that MSSC may help with:

  • Canada Pension Plan (CPP)
  • Disability Tax Credit
  • Employment Insurance
  • Social Assistance (provincial assistance program)
  • Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation rehabilitation and emergency repair programs
  • Ontario March of Dimes

What's it like to live with MS?

  • Put on a pair of gloves and then try to button up your shirt; this will approximate hand numbness, a common symptom.
  • Rub Vaseline over the lenses of a pair of glasses to simulate vision blurring, another common MS side effect.

Although the Society, which is 95 per cent self-funded, is committed to helping those with MS, the ultimate goal is to find the cause and the cure. MS community-based fund-raising events include the school-based MS Read-a-Thon, Super Cities WALK and the Rona MS Bike Tour.

To volunteer with the Society, learn more about MS or locate the division office and chapter in your area, call 1-800-268-7582 (toll-free) or visit mssociety.ca

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