Adaptive technology for living with multiple sclerosis

Adaptive Technology for Living With Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating condition that requires adjusting how you live your day-to-day life. This is because it is a degenerative disease that affects the nervous system. First, it targets the brain and spinal cord, and eventually extends to affect the individual’s control of other body parts and systems.

However, living with MS does not have to mean an interruption to your lifestyle. Special adaptive technology is designed for use with all four disease courses of MS: clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), secondary-progressive MS (SPMS), and primary-progressive MS (PPMS). Your general level of function may change over time depending on the kind of MS you have.

How Does Multiple Sclerosis Affect the Body? 

Multiple sclerosis can develop and present differently across patients, but we know a few consistent things: twice as many women are affected by MS than men, and it typically shows up between the ages of 20 and 40.

Because the problems stem from the central nervous system—the master control center of all your bodily systems—the trickle-down effect of symptoms are fairly easy to predict. This predictability can help you be more prepared and informed, making the experience less scary and helping you to find creative adjustments to your new life.

Although the exact cause of MS is unclear among the medical community, it tends to cause challenges all throughout the body. A breakdown of the myelin sheath—or the protective covering for our nerves—makes it difficult for the brain and the rest of the body to communicate clearly and effectively. Multiple sclerosis is a neurodegenerative condition but also an inflammatory autoimmune one, as it causes the body to slowly attack its own myelin sheath.

As your MS progresses, you may start to feel several changes, including:

  • Emotional changes
  • Brain interruptions
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vision problems
  • Vocal changes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weak bladder control
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Balance problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Increased cardiovascular risk
  • Weakened immune system
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Brittle bones

Let’s take a closer look at these changes to give you a sense of what you might be able to expect and how they may apply to your own life.

Mental Effects of MS

Those with MS may experience cognitive impairment, which can include episodic memory loss and changes in information processing speed. In other words, patients can have trouble taking in information and figuring out how to best utilize it. MS patients are often diagnosed early on in their lives, when they are in their prime and trying to get a jump start in their careers.

People with MS can also have emotional issues, such as low self-esteem, depression, frustration, stress, and mood swings. A person might be in a great mood and laughing one minute and then be angry or in tears the next, and they won’t know why.

This is the part of the disease that may be less visible and more difficult for others to understand at first. However, in time, loved ones and colleagues will grasp that it is simply connected with the MS and not with the individual’s true personality. MS also does not affect intelligence.

Don’t be hard on yourself if you find yourself snapping at someone for no apparent reason. It is just your central nervous system (CNS) trying to run the show. With cognitive behavioral therapy, frank communication, exercises like yoga or mindful meditation, proper medications, and the right adaptive technology, you will be able to better manage these mood swings.

Physical Effects of MS

With MS, you can experience primary and secondary symptoms—primary symptoms from your nerves being damaged, and secondary from the results of that damage.

When it comes to the nervous system, effects can arise in the form of vertigo, dizziness, confusion, and memory struggles. In less common and more advanced cases, tremors or seizures can happen.

Vision problems are often one of the first signs of MS that people notice. They manifest as double vision or blurriness, usually in one eye at a time. As the disease progresses, patients can also have trouble controlling their speech volume, articulation, and slurring their words.

While balance and gait point to issues with your muscles, osteoporosis could turn up as a skeletal system problem. Because of your MS, you may have a lower bone density than the average person. Less physical activity and a reduced mechanical load on the bones is a major contributing factor for osteoporosis in individuals with MS. Other factors that could lead to reduced bone mass are low levels of vitamin D, and the use of certain medications, such as anticonvulsants and glucocorticoids. There may also be increased pain or fatigue for MS patients.

A higher risk of heart disease and stroke also reportedly occur in those with MS—however, this is thought to be due to the lack of movement linked with muscle deterioration, which can be helped by regular exercise.

Digestive struggles may also develop, such as constipation, diarrhea, UTIs, kidney infections, or a lack of bowel control. The complex functions of the gastrointestinal system receive instruction from peripheral nerves, which are regulated by the spinal cord and brain. Therefore, neurologic conditions that disrupt the central nervous system’s normal function can lead to significant GI problems. The circulatory system can also be compromised by weakening chest muscles and nervous system dysfunction, causing shallow breathing and an inadequate oxygen supply.

Occupational and physical therapy specialists will know what type of adaptive technology can help you live a productive, healthy lifestyle despite these symptoms—or even lessen your symptoms. Strategic medicines, routines, devices, and more are all types of technologies available today to slow the progression of MS and help you operate to the fullest extent.

Combating MS With Adaptive Technology Equipment and Tactics

When you respond to the changes MS brings to your life, a combination of approaches—from specialized tactics to adaptive technology—is usually the most effective in overcoming these new challenges and taking back control of your life.

Combating the effects of MS is all about making your life easier when you think it is going to be harder. From different housekeeping tools and walking aids—such as ergometers, which make it easier to move while expending less energy—to driving modifications and writing aids, there are many new items you can invest in to get you moving again.

MS and Mobility Technology

Specialized leg braces, canes, walkers, scooters, or assistive chairs can provide support and safety when you struggle with getting around. Finding the right device for your needs can be difficult, but maintaining mobility is often key to a patient’s happiness and confidence. For added comfort and stability, orthotics—inserts that you can easily slip inside your shoes—are useful when on the go.

MS and Motor Function

Everyone has hard-to-reach spots in their home. There may be shelves, cabinets, or other places in your home that are not easily accessible when your range of motion is limited. Adaptive technology like a wheeled cart or reachers can minimize extra stretching and bending and prevent the need for heavy lifting. You can also switch to modified items around your home, such as lighter cookware, cups with lids, and knives that move in an easy, rocking motion.

MS and Comfort

Lift chairs and leg extenders or recliners can help with comfort and safety in getting up, sitting down, and adjusting your seating height. These allow you to be in the right position and angle at any given time, helping you to focus, complete your tasks, and lead a normal life. The goal is to find adaptive technology that will help you feel like yourself, regardless of the extent of your condition.

MS and Home Safety

Counters and desks can prove challenging when you aren’t able to comfortably reach the items you need. The right adaptive devices like ramps and handrails can help you get around without falling, and modified heights—or chairs that can lift you to those heights—can help you fit into necessary spaces when getting your normal tasks done.

There are even adaptive technology devices that can solve several mobility issues at once. A mobility chair, for example, provides a blend of home safety, comfort, motor function enhancement, and mobility enablement. These devices often have several added features to assist you, such as a wheel locking system and manual or electric seat adjustments, to help you conserve as much energy as possible by staying safely seated or propped against them.

Should I Use Adaptive Technology for My MS?

In most cases, using a combination of adaptive technology tools and methods can help you get maximum results. Depending on the extent of your symptoms and where you are in your individual MS journey, you can begin with just one physician-approved device. However, as the disease gradually progresses, it is generally recommended that you look into a mix of solutions for a more holistic strategy.

When used properly and under the direction of your care team, adaptive technology can make huge strides in how you manage MS and its symptoms. If you are appropriately trained in how to safely use the adaptive technology and methods available to you, they can mean the difference between just living with MS and thriving in spite of it.

Adaptive Technology for Quality of Life and Safety

Multiple sclerosis patients are often afraid of the limitations on their lives after diagnosis. Gina, who was diagnosed with MS three days before her first wedding anniversary, fell while holding her son in her arms and also hurt herself on a bike before she finally accepted the idea of using adaptive technology. As an active woman, she resisted any help from devices because she wanted to get around on her own. Now, she is grateful to assistive devices for helping her get out of the house. In fact, Gina even teaches TRX exercise classes for other MS patients so she can help them gain strength through resistance training.

Recently, Gina used a rental scooter at Universal Studios when she was on a trip with her family in Orlando, Florida. As a fit young mother, Gina doesn’t appear to have a disabling disease and she often heard whispered criticisms from others as she passed them by throughout her day in the theme park. Although it is a psychological challenge to use adaptive devices in public, she knows that they help her live the active lifestyle she wants for herself and her family. Ultimately, Gina understands that using adaptive technology is not about pitying yourself, it’s a way to manage the disease. She strives to teach her children and those who attend her workout classes that they can do anything when they’re equipped with the right tools.

Adaptive Technology and Insurance

While adaptive technology can be cost-prohibitive for some, your health insurance may provide partial or full coverage for the items you need. The first step is contacting your insurance to get everything you need to ensure coverage for your condition—from the specialists you’ll need to see to any devices you want to purchase. They should be able to tell you exactly what is covered under your plan, and your care team will be able to more effectively plan your rehabilitation when they understand what your financial options are.

Keep in mind that things are usually cheaper when they are within your network, so it’s important to contact your insurer and understand your benefits. People who are not aware of their insurance options tend to spend more. If your insurance plan doesn’t cover everything you need, you can apply for financial assistance with a third party, shop around online to compare prices, or try your local drugstore to see how their prices fare—some people find more affordable adaptive technology devices on their own. It is also within your right to file a grievance with an insurer if you’d like to protest a charge that you believe should be covered by your plan.

Deciding Upon the Right Adaptive Technology Options for You

We want to help you take full advantage of all the latest innovations that can enhance your days and get you back into the driver’s seat of your own life. People who are diagnosed with MS are often in their prime of lives and have goals and dreams they still want to pursue, which is made possible by adaptive technology. You can continue to push forward and achieve your objectives. The choice is yours, and the power is in your hands to make things better—you just have to know where to turn.

Ultimately, how you apply adaptive technology to your life should be based upon your individual diagnosis and needs. If you need help or assistance with finding the right adaptive technology for your daily life, get in touch with us. In the meantime, learn more by downloading this FREE infographic.

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