The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada — with input from both experts and patients — has developed a “wellness toolbox” with strategies to help multiple sclerosis (MS) patients cope with their disease.
“There are as many treatment plans for MS as there are people with MS,” Karen Lee, the society’s vice-president of research, said in a press release. “Everyone’s journey with MS is unique, as is their choice for treatments. Today, people living with MS have a variety of options, from diet and exercise to pharmaceuticals. We want to provide the best information and support that we can on all topics that are of interest to our community.”
Wellness is becoming a big area of research, particularly in patients with chronic diseases such as MS. With an estimated 291 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013, according to the Multiple Sclerosis International Foundation, Canada has the world’s highest incidence of MS.
While pharmaceutical and scientific research are advancing in the therapeutic area, studies are also underway to determine the contribution of wellness factors such as nutrition, physical activity and emotional well-being — to quality of life for MS patients.
With that in mind, the Toronto-based MS Society of Canada conducted a Wellness Survey, which led to the launch of the Hermès Canada | MS Society Wellness Research Innovation Grant. These grants are awarded to scientists conducting research on MS and wellness factors.
The University of Saskatchewan, which received one such grant in 2016, investigated the effect of Pilates in people with MS. The study recruited 30 MS patients. Half took Pilates classes twice a week and massage therapy once a week, while the other half only did once-a-week massage therapy.
Results showed that patients who took Pilates classes saw an improvement in their overall condition, compared to patients in the control group.
“This study is very promising, as Pilates can be individualized for almost everyone living with MS,” said lead author Charity Evans. “While the scientific evidence is statistically relevant, I was also moved by the personal stories of our participants. One individual had stopped driving due to lack of confidence and body control, but was able to start driving again by the end of the study. Another participant who required an assistive device to walk at the start of the study could walk unassisted at the end of the study.”
To create its wellness toolbox, the MS Society of Canada received input from MS patients about strategies that have helped them manage the disease and live a full life, divided into five main themes:
- “Move Your Body.” Exercise is a vital component of everyday life and of particular importance to MS patients. Exercise techniques such as Pilates and yoga can be personalized and made adaptable to an individual’s strength
- “Feed Your Health.” Proper nutrition is crucial, whether this means eating more or cutting out dairy, gluten or sugar.
- “Looking Beyond the Traditional.” While a healthcare team is absolutely necessary, MS patients can also reach out to holistic practitioners such as nutritionists, naturopaths, massage therapists or acupuncturists — all of whom have been known to help MS patients with everyday wellness.
- “Share.” MS patients find it helpful to talk about and share their experiences. Support groups can provide such an environment, but so can blogs, diaries, therapy sessions and even friends and family.
- “Cut Yourself Some Slack.” MS patients should allow themselves to have an occasional bad day, and then work to make the next day better. Patients must realize they are not alone, and that there is always someone who can help them.
“No one needs to face MS alone,” said Evans. “Services are available in most communities across Canada and getting involved can make a world of difference. And it’s OK to start small. Anecdotally, our study found that the simple act of getting out and being a part of something improved the emotional well-being of all our participants. It’s up to each of us to find our own wellness path.”
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