In Search of the Ideal MS Climate
Last updated: February 2023
I live in the great state of Maine. What's so great about it? Let's start with lobsters, blueberries, and potatoes, sometimes all in one sitting. Maine is home to Stephen King, the most trees per square mile of any state (suck it, New Hampshire), and did I mention lobsters, and snow? Don’t forget the snow. If you enjoy trivia, you already know that Maine has the only single-syllable state name, and that we are the only state bordering exactly one other state. I could do this all day.
Drastic seasonal changes
In Maine, we experience dramatic seasonal changes. Cold and snowy are offset by hot and humid summers, short though they may be. Spring is muddy, wet, and full of promise in non-pandemic years. Autumn is crisp and colorful. Back in the day, the “old me” embraced this cyclical passage of time. I had cultivated outdoor passions for each season, never dreading the change of the calendar. The new me, the one with multiple sclerosis, could do without the Maine climate for about 300 days a year.
Seasonal effects on MS symptoms
Summer in Maine is heavenly, for most people. But, when the temperature, inside or outside, rises much above 72°F, I am beset with weakness and fatigue, over and above my everyday weakness and fatigue. The hotter it gets, the worse I feel. Fortunately, the effect is temporary, and once I find myself in cooler surroundings, such as after sunset, my condition improves, and I am no longer a prisoner in my air-conditioned home. September and October are ideal weather months for me. In fact, the genesis of this blog post idea was a statement I made to Kim a couple of days ago. "This is the coolest morning we’ve had in months, and I feel stronger already,” I said.
Winter brings its own problems
But my comfort is short-lived because winter ushers in a fresh set of problems. On frigid days, my muscle spasticity goes crazy. When I venture outside in my wheelchair, my legs become so stiff that my feet lift off the foot pedals. My arms become so rigid that it’s difficult for me to control the joystick. With all the snow and ice we get in Maine, the sidewalks are often unsuitable for wheelchair travel. Once again, I am a prisoner in my home, cozy though it may be.
Where is that ideal MS climate?
As I suffer through these seasonal changes, I sometimes wonder where I might enjoy a more favorable climate for my condition?
I’ve already described why the extremes don’t work. Maine, Minnesota, and Alaska are too cold. Arizona, Nevada, Mississippi, and Texas — too hot.
The Pacific Northwest
But there are regions of the country where the temperature swings are less drastic. How about the Pacific Northwest? It doesn’t get as cold as Maine in the winters nor as hot as Florida in the summers. With so much rainfall, however, it’s not ideal for power wheelchair use outside (as I write this, I brace for the barrage of retorts from Oregon and Washington residents in defense of their beautiful, although lobsterless, states).
That brings us to coastal California. I have relatives in Santa Barbara, where they suffer winter temps that plunge into the 60s, and summer temps that soar well into the 70s. Rainfall is scarce. It seems ideal, but there are non-weather-related considerations such as earthquakes, wildfires, traffic, water shortages, and perhaps most importantly — exorbitant housing costs. People who are not wealthy can't afford to relocate to coastal California.
Why not live in two places?
In their retirement years, lots of people from northern climates spend a few months in a warm state such as Florida or Arizona, and a few months in a cooler state like New York or Michigan. This is impractical, however, for people with disabilities, especially those in wheelchairs. It takes time, energy, and money to make a home accessible. Few wheelchair users enjoy the luxury of a proper home, let alone two of them.
What about the rest of the world?
I would like to hear from readers on the subject, but I don’t see myself living as an expatriate.
When are Kim and I moving?
For now, we are staying put in Maine. Full disclosure — it’s not only that our climate blend averages out to something reasonable. Maine is our home. It’s what we know. It’s where our peeps live. It’s where Kim’s career will continue for another five-plus years.
My questions for you
How does weather affect your day-to-day life with MS?
Where do you think the perfect climate is for MS, in America or abroad, and why are you not living there already? If you are living there already, when can I visit?
Do you use any of the following assistive devices?
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