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The Impact That Crowded Places Have On Me Because Of MS

The Impact That Crowded Places Have On Me Because Of MS

For the most part, I’ve always been a sociable person and have literally craved being around people. Now that I am on disability and spend a lot of time alone, my desire to be around others has only increased. So whenever my body will let me, I jump at the chance to go to a social gathering. The more I am stuck at home, the more I enjoy getting out and talking face to face with people. Whether I’ve known them for years or met them that day, I usually have no problem breaking the ice and having a pleasant conversation with someone (even if that presents its own challenges). If my wife and I attend a party or event together and she wants to catch up with a friend, she’s pretty comfortable with leaving me alone because she knows I’ll entertain myself (or more likely, others). There are times, however, when I am around a lot of people and suddenly become a different person. I get completely overwhelmed by crowds!

Sensory overload

I’ve mentioned before how I at times suffer from sensory overload, a much more common issue with MS than most people realize. This issue with crowds is 100% related to that. For me, getting overwhelmed around a large crowd happens due to a variety of triggers. It’s not just because it’s a large amount of people, although, yes, there is a certain bit of claustrophobia I start to feel when this happens. Noise, attention span, and cognitive issues are what really hit me hard when I am in a large crowd.

Too many different noises at once

The massive amount of noise is normally the biggest part of the issue for me. It’s not necessarily that the place is loud (although that can hurt too), it’s that there are a lot of different noises. Large groups of people all having their own conversations can be a real nightmare for me. If I’m talking to someone else, I begin to have trouble pulling their voice out from all the background noise, even if they are right next to me. Many times, even if I normally would be able to hear them fine, if there are too many other people around, I end up just smiling and nodding and not really hearing what they are saying. I simply can’t pull their voice out from all the rest of the noise, which can end up leaving me pretty confused. In addition to being confused, sudden noises are pretty painful to me. Being in a large crowd increases the chance that the noise level won’t be consistent and that I’ll end up in pain or even on the floor.

Following conversations is hard

Lots of separate voices combined with all those bodies around me also make it impossible to pay attention.  As my disease has progressed, my ability to pay attention has degraded. This happens with many of ussuffering from MS. It is so easy for me to become distracted now. It’s an issue I never had until recently, so for me, it seems extra disorienting. My brain begins to feel like it’s being pulled in a million different directions!  Not only does this make me feel uncomfortable and useless in conversation, it greatly contributes to my fatigue and even being able to stay on my feet or sit up. That’s something I think many people don’t get, that just trying to follow a conversation in a crowded room can literally have physical consequences for us. So even if I am sitting and simply having a conversation somewhere, I can still end up paying the MS Tax even though it seems like I wasn’t really active. Even if my body wasn’t doing a lot, my mind was, and that still adds up.

If the crowd is too big, joy can become despair really quickly for me.

Cognitive issues are also something I battle with daily but become increased around large crowds. Short term memory is a big issue for me. Many times I will completely forget what conversations I’ve had when I am out in large groups. Not only full conversations, but even the beginning of whatever conversation I’m having. I’ll also forget what I’ve said and tend to repeat things. It’s extremely frustrating and embarrassing too. I’m sure I sometimes seem like I’m not paying attention to people, when I am exhausting myself trying to keep up, trying to remember what we’ve all said. It’s rough and depressing too. Remember at the beginning of this article how I mentioned that this is something I used to enjoy?  If the crowd is too big, joy can become despair really quickly for me.

Sounds like a nightmare right? At times it is. I am lucky that I do not suffer these issues as badly as many others do. I also do very well when things are consistent. I’ve mentioned before how important a consistent temperature is for me, but it extends past that. A consistent environment that I am used to makes everything more bearable for me (again, I am lucky because that doesn’t help everyone). For example, if I go to one of the local spots that I go to all the time, there is much less a chance of a large crowd becoming a problem for me there.  I’m not sure why, maybe because most aspects of the place are so familiar that there is less overall new input coming into my brain, but I really don’t know. It is just easier for me to be around crowds if I’m in a place I am very familiar and comfortable with. Even then, sometimes I need to escape to a quiet room or car for a few minutes to collect and reset myself. If I can’t escape physically, I’ll try to look down at something on my phone and escape there for a minute.

It’s not only sensory issues

Aside from sensory issues, large crowds can be a source of stress for folks with MS for other reasons. Finding and using a bathroom can be a huge source of trouble for us (that may seem trivial to some, but as someone who has wet themselves in a crowded bar, I can tell you, it’s a very real issue). Whether we are using our cane, wheelchair, or no aid at all, mobility can be pretty problematic for us and navigating a large crowd can seem next to impossible. So while I haven’t focused on the physical issues of dealing with a crowd with MS, know that they do exist.

Crowds can mean trouble for many of us suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. This has been my experience and I know it is not nearly as bad as others’, while some may not have these issues at all. I get some great comments on my articles and those experiences that everyone shares are every bit as helpful (many times more) than anything I’ve written myself. So regardless of what your experience is, I’d love to hear from everyone and learn about what being around crowds is like for you.

Thanks everyone,


This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • 0rangecrusher51
    3 years ago

    Devin thank you so much for the articles you have written for sensory over load issues….I have experienced all of them, and for me hearing that others experience this helps me feel less crazy! I was only diagnosed in November of 2014 so I’m still adapting but your articles have helped me out!

  • Julie
    3 years ago

    Two words. Grocery. Store.

    It’s the fluorescent lights, the crowds of people, the muzak, the droning voices coming over the intercom, it’s me trying to decide on the red jar or the green jar, which one did I get last time?

    Shopping has become a nightmare for me. What helps now is most stores will now take your order on-line and just like that, I can go pick it up. They will even bring it out and load it up for me! OMG! I will kiss the feet of whoever thought this up!!

    Online shopping has saved me the past few Christmases as well. I can’t deal with all the jostling of other people trying to grab the same thing as me. Something about stores in general. Oh, and let’s not forget the parking dilemma. Of course, that’s another story for a different time.

  • printguy
    3 years ago

    Devin, Thank you. I thought it was only me for such a long time… Large gatherings and restaurants are extremely challenging for all the reasons you mentioned, yet I find going to an occasional concert, not a challenge maybe it is that I am sitting and listening to very loud music which I am familiar with rather than trying to partake in a conversations). In a way, I am fortunate that I have only been diagnosed about 1.5 years and I am in my 60’s. I am still learning what I can and cannot do and what I can and cannot tolerate. So far, concentration, balance, loud noises and high pitched voices seem to be my biggest problems. Hopefully my PPMS will not progress too rapidly…

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you printguy! It’s always nice to hear when I am not alone! Familiar places and sounds really do seem to make a big difference. I can see how a concert, with one steady sound could be helpful too!

  • Diego
    3 years ago

    You described my problem with crowds to a T. Not only is the sensory overload a huge challenge to contend up with, its also exhausting. I usually end up having to deal with spasticity later on because of the mental exhaustion of trying to follow multiple conversations at the same time. i too am disabled and spend a considerable amount of time alone. I think that this contributes to the feeling of being overwhelmed in crowds or family gatherings. We humans are social creatures, we always need to reach out and vent sometimes. MS just makes it a little bit more complicated. Nevertheless, we need to make an effort to stay socially active as much as possible.
    Thanks for this very relevant post!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you Diego! It really is exhausting! Very much agree that being on disability and alone a lot contributes. People really don’t understand how hard that can be!

  • Dimitri
    3 years ago

    Wow. And I thought it was just me being antisocial. Haha. Before my definitive ms diagnoses I had an “anxiety attack” while celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans one year. Mardi Gras must be the worst place (or best place) for over stimulation. The lights and the noise and the people. It’s like the perfect trifecta to drive a person with MS crazy.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you Dimitri! Wow, I can’t think of a worse place to have these issues than Mardi Gras! You are 100% right! That is a nightmare of stimulation overload!

  • a57vld
    3 years ago

    Thanks Devin, for this great article. You worked out really well the elements that make crowd situations so hard and what happens to us. It was really affirming to read this. This is EXACTLY what it’s like. So I have another problem on top of these – I will talk to someone for an hour, a long time and a good conversation, in a group, a party, an event, a church supper – and when I run into them a week later, I will not recognize them. Talk about embarrassing! Facial recognition problems can come with this, too It is so odd and hard to deal with. MS is not for cowards. You really do become a different person in social situations; I use every trick I can think of not to look like a fool, and thank God I am married, my husband carries the ball when I’m in trouble . Bless him forever! I cannot reconcile myself to the weird cognitive losses, it’s a real really struggle to deal with them.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you a57vld! I’m never happy to hear that someone else experiences this, but I do get some comfort knowing I am not alone! You’re very right, MS is not for cowards, we’re all warriors with this disease. I like to think it only hits those of us who are particularly tough (even if we don’t know we are)!

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