Children of multiple sclerosis

13 December 2013

Neda Razaz is a PhD candidate in the UBC Pharmacoepidemiology in Multiple Sclerosis Research Group (led by MSFHR Scholar Dr. Helen Tremlett). In this blog post, she describes how the onset of chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis in parents can impact early childhood development.

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The early years play a crucial role that extends far beyond childhood.

Research has shown that challenges facing adult society, including mental health, obesity, criminality, competence in reading and writing have their roots in early childhood. Health Canada has stated that having a parent with a chronic illness, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), puts children at risk.

However surprisingly little is known about what these risks are or what could be done about them.

MS is a chronic illness which often starts in early adulthood, at a life stage when parenting is an important issue for many. MS affects the brain and spinal cord, leading to disability and coordination problems; its cause is unknown. Both BC and Canada as a whole have some of the highest prevalence rates of MS in the world, with three more Canadians being diagnosed with MS every day.

The relapsing and progressive course of MS, and the uncertainty over future disability, can have a profound impact on the patients’ emotional well-being and could constitute a potential threat to mental health and development in their children.

In order to alleviate family burden and provide a holistic point-of-care for patients who are suffering from MS, it is necessary to understand and investigate developmental well-being in children with a parent affected by MS.

Our research will link important province-wide data from both the education and health systems to investigate differences in the quality of stimulation, support and nurturing that children receive by the time they reach kindergarten.

Our findings could then be used by MS patients, health care professionals, and policy makers, to better identify how MS impacts the patient and his/her family and to ensure that a holistic and optimal patient management strategy materialize within the health care system.

Insights from this research will also help other patient groups, such as families affected by cancer, thereby helping to maximize the potential of all children. We acknowledge the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for funding this research and for the MS Society of Canada for providing PhD salary funding.