Growing Older with Myasthenia Gravis: A Conversation on Aging
The effects of aging compounded with myasthenia gravis (MG) may bring unique challenges and questions.
Whether you live with MG or care for someone who does, here are some things to consider that may help make living with MG more manageable as you grow older. Like aging, a myasthenia gravis diagnosis is the start of a journey. Life expectancy in the United States is increasing, and by 2060, nearly one-quarter of Americans will be age 65 or older.1 Here are some lifestyle tips that may help you navigate the road ahead.
Stay Physically Active
Keeping your body as active as possible and stretching regularly may keep muscles from getting stiff. If you feel up to exercising and have your doctor’s approval, you may want to try a few myasthenia gravis-friendly exercises led by Vanetta, a personal trainer living with MG who was featured in A Mystery to Me, an MG United docuseries.
See Your Healthcare Team Regularly
As you age, your bones become thinner and more fragile, and people living with myasthenia gravis are more vulnerable to developing osteoporosis, where your bones become weak and brittle.2,3 It’s important that your doctor monitors your bone density as you get older to help keep your bones healthy. A bone fracture may limit your mobility or cause pain. Your doctor may recommend that you see an occupational therapist. They can observe your mobility and provide guidance on how you may want to set up your bathroom or kitchen in an effort to help prevent falls. Here are some helpful tips an occupational therapist may recommend:
- Ensure that you’re getting enough rest
- Install secured grab bars in your shower or bath and around your bathroom, such as by the toilet, to help prevent slips and, if possible, a bathtub door so you don’t have to swing your legs over the edge of a slippery tub
- Make sure to clean up spills right away
- Put away throw rugs, keep stairs and walkways clear and consider installing a chair lift on your stairs if you have difficulty climbing up and down
Mind Your Diet
Maintain good nutrition and stay hydrated. Your metabolism tends to slow as you age, and with advanced age there may be greater risk of dehydration due to several factors including diminished appetite, decrease in thirst sensation, medication usage and decline in kidney function.4,5 It’s important to remember to drink water throughout the day, and not just when you’re thirsty.
Did you know you can hydrate with the foods you eat as well? Certain foods like fruits and veggies are high in water content and can help keep you hydrated. Try making a smoothie with cucumbers, celery, watermelon or strawberries to help boost your water intake throughout the day and look for pre-chopped fruits in your grocery store for less prep work.6 Smoothies may help keep you cool, hydrated and nourished.
It’s also important to make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet, which may help prevent osteoporosis.3,7 These two nutrients are essential to bone health and a healthy metabolism, and the recommended intake increases as you age. Talk with a nutritionist about foods rich in calcium, such as milk and cheese, as well as dark green vegetables and nuts. Fatty fish, liver and egg yolks are rich natural sources of vitamin D, and several foods, like milk, cereals and nutrition bars have vitamin D added to them, known as fortified, to help boost your intake.7 Consider looking for fortified oats in the grocery store to create overnight oats (dental soft) for breakfast, which may help boost both your calcium and vitamin D intake.
Please consult your healthcare team for which recipes are best for your dietary needs or whether any modifications would be appropriate, and consider any allergies or dietary restrictions before making these recipes.
Rely on Your Support System
Embrace all the help that’s there for you. From friends and family to support groups and online counseling, you have many options to help keep you on the right track. To explore more resources, read How to Have Good Emotional Health and MG at the Same Time. Remember that myasthenia gravis is more than just physical symptoms; it’s important to take care of the emotional effects of MG, too.
Maintain Your Brain Health
As people age, they may experience decreased cognitive abilities and increased memory problems.8,9 Staying engaged by doing things such as picking up a new hobby as you get older has been shown to enhance memory function and cognitive health.10 Pursuing a new activity, like joining a photography class or learning a new instrument or language, can stretch your mind and may also deliver a new sense of accomplishment.
Plan for the Future
As you age, you may want to consider whether you have a supportive network in place. In some cases, specialized assistance may be helpful if you’re not getting the support you need. Assisted living or in-home care may help with transportation, companionship, everyday activities and managing your care in general. Retirement homes offer additional options you might want to consider as well.
If your doctor is recommending a nursing home because you are unable to meet your own self-care needs, the Medicare Nursing Home Checklist has additional ideas to keep in mind.
We all need to consider aging, especially if you live with MG. Make sure to keep these tips in mind as you grow older.
- Population Reference Bureau. Aging in the United States. Accessed July 21, 2021. https://www.prb.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/aging-us-population-bulletin-1.pdf.
- Farrugia ME, et al. Front. Neurol. 2020;11:604.
- Boskey AL, et al. J Dent Res. 2010;89(12):1333-1348.
- European Hydration Institute. Key Tips on Hydration for Elderly People. Accessed July 21, 2021. http://www.europeanhydrationinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/EHI_Key_Tips_on_Hydration_Elderly.pdf.
- Shur NF, et al. Ageing Res Rev. 2021;68:101344.
- Cleveland Clinic. Dehydrated? These 7 Foods Will Satisfy Your Thirst and Hunger. Accessed July 21, 2021. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/dehydrated-these-7-foods-will-satisfy-your-thirst-and-hunger/.
- Nieves JW. Clin Geriatr Med. 2003;19(2):321-335.
- Murman DL. Semin Hear. 2015;36(3):111-121.
- Mao Z, et al. Ann Indian Acad Neurol. 2015;18(2):131-137.
- McDonough IM, et al. Restor Neurol Neurosci. 2015;33(6):865-82.
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