Individualized treatment for multiple sclerosis is important.
Individuals who represent the millennial generation were born between 1982 and 2000 and recently surpassed baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) to become the largest subpopulation in the United States.1 Millennials are more ethnically and racially diverse than any previous generation, and their education level is expected to exceed that of earlier generations.2
“The most defining characteristic of the millennial generation is undoubtedly their usage and demand of technology,” wrote the authors of a review published in Neurology Clinics.3 As “digital natives,” they “have grown up with computers and the Internet from an early age and, hence, use technology in almost every aspect of their lives.”
As the average age of multiple sclerosis (MS) onset is 30 years, millennials are currently the generation with the highest risk of the disease. This highlights the need for healthcare providers to understand and accommodate the specific preferences of this patient group, similar to the ways in which educational practices are now incorporating millennial-friendly modes of communication, such as delivering content via social media sites and providing medical residents with iPads to facilitate learning.4,5
“Just as the education system has transformed and adapted to the demands of the millennial generation, so too will the health care system as this generation ages,” according to the authors of the review.3 “A new wave of patients having distinct preferences regarding their approach to acquiring and assimilating information is upon specialists in neuroimmunology, and prior management approaches used in other age demographics may be suboptimal for this contemporary group.”
Two general health concerns of relevance to millennials are the substantially higher rates of obesity and mental disorders – especially depression and anxiety – compared to other generations.3Obesity has been linked with an increased risk of MS, with at least twice the risk found among young adults with a body mass index (BMI) ≥27 kg/m2 compared with young adults with a lower BMI.6,7
Other findings suggest that an MS diagnosis may increase the risk of depression, which is particularly concerning with a patient group that has already been shown to have higher rates of depression.8 It is likely that the elevated rates of obesity and mental illness among millennials will affect the course of MS and treatment needs of these patients.
Another key challenge with these patients may be their extreme cost-consciousness. One in 5 millennials is unable to afford basic health care expenses, and more than half have reported delaying or foregoing medical care because of cost.9,10 “The increased likelihood of millennials omitting key components of disease management in an effort to reduce costs is a major concern,” as noted in the article.3 “In general, millennials need to be better motivated to prioritize their health even if it means incurring additional costs.”
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