Giving Gifts to a Person With Multiple Sclerosis

Avoid gift-giving mistakes with these tips

Giving Gifts in MS
Giving Gifts in MS. Walker and Walker/Getty Images

If a special person on your gift list is living with multiple sclerosis (MS), you may wonder what you should and shouldn't consider giving them. While any gift from the heart should be appreciated, here are a few tips to optimize your chances of gift-giving success.

Gifts to Avoid Giving People With MS

Let's start with the gifts you should avoid giving to those with MS.

Anything That Makes Noise

This one is a serious no-no for a person with MS who endures the daily challenges of cognitive dysfunction.

Gag gifts like singing snowmen or reindeer heads are annoying to most people, but for some people with MS, a song coming out of a singing or dancing whimsical object can derail any conversation or attempt to relax.

You should even think carefully about classier gifts that make noise, like antique clocks or small fountains. Even a tiny fraction of brain cells being “hijacked” by the auditory signals of background noise can slow a person with MS down or lead to important things being forgotten.

Season Tickets

You may mean well by trying to help a person with MS “get out of the house more.” What better way to do that than getting them a gift that requires scheduling, preplanning, and forces these people to “have fun” on a regular basis?

But the problem is that a person with MS doesn't know how she is going to feel in a couple of hours, much less on a specific day each month. When a person with MS says she is tired, that is usually an understatement of the immobilizing symptom of MS fatigue.

In fact, most people living with MS do not know when an MS symptom will go from “annoying” to the point where it interferes with functioning, or at the very least, keeps someone from having a good time.

If you want to enjoy an activity with a person with MS, ask them a couple of questions like:

  • "What time of day is usually your best?"
  • "Do you prefer a quiet brunch to a more social happy hour?"

To make the gift truly special, tell the person with MS that you will not get your feelings hurt if you have to ask a couple of times before actually getting to go out with them.

“Inspirational” Gifts

Please don’t give someone with MS a picture of a mountain with a quote about being able to do anything you put your mind to. A person with MS needs more than words of encouragement to get past real hurdles. The implication can be hurtful.

Avoid gifts with a religious message unless you are intimate with this person and know not only what their faith means to them, but how and when they choose to incorporate it into their lives. The same goes for political messages. Do not imply that people with MS are physically better or worse off because a certain president or another politician is in office.

Stuff About MS

There is some really neat and funny stuff out there about MS, like awesome t-shirts, mugs, and armbands, many from MS-related support organizations. But unless you have MS, you probably should not give one of these gifts to someone with MS. What can be hilarious or meaningful to people in the same group may be upsetting when given by an outsider.

Gifts With a “Should” Message

People with MS likely know that they (like everyone else) “should” exercise more and “should” find the positive side of any situation. Most smokers (with or without MS) know that they “should” stop smoking, and who among us would not benefit from eating healthier?

It's not wise to tell someone (MS or not) what they “should” do, at least not in the form of a gift like an exercise equipment or a book about the “Chicken Soup” of chronic illness and its blessings. This may imply that MS is a person's fault, or that they have more control over their disease than they think.

Those gift messages can cause hurt feelings, which is the last thing you want for your loved one.

A Surprise Party

Just as a person with MS cannot usually plan things months in advance, she also needs a tiny bit of warning before embarking on something. She may need to schedule a nap and conserve energy on a day that she knows there will be an event. Then there are small but necessary, practical chores to take care of (for example, timing medications, self-catheterization, extra time needed to look nice if she knows there is going to be a celebration).

Surprise parties may rob a person with MS of the control they have over the things they need to do to get ready for an exhausting event, as well as plunge them into a chaotic situation for which they have not prepared.

Gifts to Consider Giving People with MS

While there are a number of gifts you may want to avoid giving a person with MS, here are some gift ideas that can bring lots of cheer:

Consider Their Interests

Think of a person's favorite hobby and buy something related to that. For instance, if your friend, family member, or work colleague with MS loves to read mystery novels, buy one from a more obscure author or consider a gift card to a bookstore or online source. If they enjoy nature, buy a beautiful picture book or a plant. You can also consider signing them up for a month magazine subscription or coffee or wine club.

Donate to Their Favorite Charity

Donating to your loved one's charity of choice is truly a thoughtful gift. That said, don't assume that your loved one's favorite charity or foundation has to do with MS. Let them choose, and then be sure to go through with it.

Prepare Comfort Foods

Everyone loves a treat now and then. Consider mailing or delivering a fresh fruit basket, brownies, or a collection of their favorite movie snacks. Of course, be mindful if this person has dietary restrictions or allergies.

Make Something

Making something often goes a longer way than buying something from the store. It shows time, effort, and compassion—try making a card, knitting a scarf, baking a homemade dinner, or beading a necklace.

Your Presence

Unfortunately, many people with MS experience isolation, both literally and figuratively. Walking difficulties and fatigue can make leaving home difficult. In addition, the loneliness of living with a disease that most others around you don't have is very real and difficult pill to swallow at times.

Remember, your very presence through a visit or even a phone call can go a long way.

A Word from Verywell

The above tips are meant to guide you, but of course, do not apply to every person with MS. For example, a close friend with MS may very well enjoy a surprise party or an inspirational novel to read.

In the end, trust your instincts and remain thoughtful.  Gift-giving is an enjoyable, beautiful act and can strengthen your relationship with a person.

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