Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a common debilitating neurologic disease that affects mostly young women. This review provides an overview of research on the psychosocial impact of parental MS on children to inform clinicians and support people with MS considering parenthood.
A systematic review of the literature was performed by searching the MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and PSYNDEX databases. We included quantitative and mixed-method studies assessing psychosocial outcomes of children with a parent with MS. Studies were screened for eligibility and evaluated for risk of bias.
We screened 608 references, assessed 72 studies in full-text, and included 28 studies in this review. Most of the studies reported on psychosocial adjustment processes, with most results suggesting negative consequences, including difficulties with mood, behavior, or social interaction. Several studies also described associations between children with a parent with MS and increased incidences of psychiatric disorders. Nevertheless, some studies claimed that children with a parent with MS were not more likely to have psychosocial problems compared with children without a parent with MS. A few studies indicated probable positive effects of parental MS, eg potentially increased social competence. Other investigated outcomes were children’s coping skills, early childhood development, body image, and effects on education, and these were unaffected or only slightly affected by having a parent with MS.
Having a parent with MS has a relevant effect on children. However, the heterogeneous nature and varying quality of the included studies limit the interpretability of these findings. Further research is needed to provide robust evidence.