MS and mobility
Treating MS can help to reduce flare-ups of your condition, helping you to function as normally as possible. But medication is just one part of the puzzle. There are also ways your lifestyle can affect your symptoms, so learn what you can do to maximize your ability to get around.
Treat the condition. While there is no cure for MS, there are medications that can help reduce both the severity and the number of relapses. Some types of medications (e.g., beta-interferons) are genetically engineered copies of proteins that already exist in your body, which, when injected, help regulate your immune system. They also help fight off viral infections that can take a toll on your mobility. Other medications (e.g., glatiramer, natalizumab) work by blocking attacks by the immune system.
In addition to treatments that affect your condition, there are also medications that can maximize your mobility by reducing your symptoms when MS flares up, including corticosteroids (which reduce inflammation), muscle relaxants, and medications to combat fatigue. Talk to you doctor about how these treatments can improve your ability to get around.
Exercise. Exercise is important for everyone, and all the more so for people with MS. It can improve your strength, muscle tone, and balance, all of which make it easier for you to stay mobile. If you are starting a new exercise program, just make sure to talk to your doctor first.
Get enough rest. MS can increase the amount of fatigue you feel, making the thought of going anywhere simply exhausting. Make sure you get enough sleep; that will help.
Watch the heat. Heat can increase your symptoms and cause muscle weakness - neither of which is good as far as mobility is concerned. So stay cool - especially in the summer - with air conditioning and cool baths.
MS and accessibility
Getting around when you have MS can be a challenge, but challenges were meant to be conquered. From public transit to special taxis to community resources for people with different accessibility needs, it's important to be aware of your options and your rights.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that all Canadians have the same rights, regardless of their physical abilities or any physical restrictions they may have. This extends to things such as transportation and access to places such as restaurants and movie theatres. Still, services can vary from community to community and from place to place, which is why it's important to plan ahead and to know what's available to you.
In Canada, the Access to Travel website (www.accesstotravel.gc.ca), a project spearheaded by Transport Canada, can help you get information about transportation for people with physical disabilities from coast to coast. Whether you are looking for information on local buses or taxis or want to fly across the country, this resource allows you to find the most convenient option.
The Canadian Abilities Foundation website (www.abilities.ca) also has an extensive list of links to other sites that can help you learn more about accessibility issues across the country.
MS and assistive devices
From getting around your home to getting around your community, mobility may be a challenge if you have MS. But there are many devices to help keep you mobile and make getting around less of a challenge. These are called assistive devices, and are often prescribed by an occupational, physical, or speech therapist, following referral by a physician. Some are simple - for example, a grab bar that can help you get in and out of the shower - while others take advantage of the latest technologies, such as hand controls and low-energy steering wheels, which can be installed in your car so you can drive.
Thanks to emerging technologies, there is an ever-growing roster of aids that can help you to get around. And before you start to worry that the cost may be prohibitive, find out what is covered in your provincial health plan. In many provinces, certain devices are covered with a doctor's prescription. You also may be able to deduct the cost of some of these devices from your income tax. Your physician can help direct you to the appropriate resources and help you explore the wide range of options that exist, depending on your needs.
And don't forget about the tried-and-true. If you only have minor problems walking, a cane or walker can help you maintain your balance and stability and give you some added support, while a wheelchair or electric scooter can help you cover longer distances or get around if you can't walk at all. Talking to other MS patients through an MS support group can also point you to devices you may never have thought of.
Being able to get around can still be fun, too! If you're a biking fan, MS doesn't mean you have to kiss riding around on two wheels goodbye. There are many modified bikes on the market that feature things like special padded backrests to improve your comfort and rechargeable batteries to give you a boost when the fatigue kicks in.
MS and rehabilitation
Physical therapy can help to keep you strong, maximizing your ability to go about your life. Physical therapy is usually prescribed by your doctor, and is conducted by either a physical therapist or a physician who specializes in rehabilitational medicine.
Generally, physical therapy programs are tailored to the individual, based on their needs. If the goal is to maintain strength, your physiotherapist may teach you a series of stretches and strengthening exercises, which can be done at home both during the course of your physical therapy treatment and afterward, either on your own or with a helper.
If you have recently started using an assistive device such as a cane, brace, walker, or wheelchair, a physical therapy program can help you adapt to this lifestyle change. A physical therapist can teach you how to use this device safely and at a minimum level of inconvenience, and show you exercises that can maximize your efficiency when using these devices. If you have suffered a flare-up as a result of your MS, a physical therapy program may also be able to help you regain use of your muscles.
Occupational therapy is also a part of rehabilitation. An occupational therapist focuses on specific daily activities and can help you relearn activities such as dressing, eating, and driving that may be diminished following a flare-up. Occupational therapists can also recommend assistive devices to help you go about your daily life.
Other rehabilitational offerings include speech therapy, which can help people with weakness or a lack of coordination in the face and tongue muscles causing speech difficulties, and cognitive retraining, which can help those with memory loss or learning difficulties.