Living with multiple sclerosis is a challenge, no matter how you spin it, and a lot of different options that are available to patients are about management rather than healing. Finding a means to reduce symptoms is essential to quality of life with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, especially since doctors estimate more than half of patients have some sort of permanent effects that cause disabilities at different levels.
Employing different types of rehabilitation that might help in managing multiple sclerosis is a popular direction that doctors suggest. With the right strategy and proper implementation, patients have found great relief in symptoms and lessening of progression by engaging in various rehab therapies. There are five different rehabilitation options typically suggested for MS patients.
1. Physical therapy
One of the main symptoms of multiple sclerosis is decreased mobility, with four out of five patients having extreme difficulty walking, especially during a relapse, within ten years of the initial diagnosis. Physical therapy is recommended as a rehabilitation effort that assists by increasing both mobility and independence for MS patients.
The exercises taught in physical therapy can:
- Reduce overall muscle pain related to the disease
- Ease spasms and weakness related to MS
- Improve balance and coordination
- Help prevent falls
- Reduce or delay the need for a mobility device
If a patient does find they need a mobility device, a physical therapist can help assess the need and determine which is best for that particular patient, since needs are as unique as the patient and the way the disease manifests in that patient.
Another benefit of physical therapy for multiple sclerosis is that studies have proven it to help relieve some fatigue, which is extremely common with this disease. A 2013 study showed that ambulatory patients had less fatigue after three months of physical therapy.
Because it is controlled by an experienced therapist, physical therapy also assures that patients get the exercise they need to remain mobile without overexerting themselves and causing additional inflammation and detrimental damage.
2. Occupational therapy
While physical therapy focuses on personal mobility training, occupational therapy concentrates efforts on rehabilitation through environmental factors and making the most of limitations. Patients learn to assess abilities and limitations and work around them, finding the best resolutions to live the fullest life.
For example, occupational therapists can assist with:
- Reducing fall risks at home by suggesting removal of rugs or addition of handrails
- Changing lighting based on vision needs
- How to find and hire a caregiver
- Learning meal related needs for MS patients, including preparation
- Tips for dressing and bathing to reduce energy expenditure
These are just a few problems that may be resolved through occupational rehabilitation. Various therapists employ different techniques to help with coping mechanisms as well as ways to stay active without exhaustion.
3. Cognitive rehabilitation
Unfortunately, the attacks on the central nervous system that lead to multiple sclerosis can cause further damage to the brain, including problems with:
- Memory retention
- Attention span
- Thinking and information processing (mainly speed)
- Reasoning ability
- Organizational habits
- Visual and spatial recognition
These cognitive abilities can be crucial in living a full, healthy life, and these are some of the worse symptoms that come with the disease. Most of the time, cognitive dysfunction isn’t severe, but it can still be bothersome, and for some patients, it affects daily life.
Cognitive rehabilitation therapists work with patients to maximize their abilities and helping them to cope with the loss, minimizing the effects the deficits have on day to day activities.
They help compensate for obstacles patients face by:
- Helping patients identify the part of the day when they are most alert and plan to complete brain-intensive activities during these hours
- Finding ways for patients to engage in brain stimulating activities, including card games, puzzles, and reading
- Teaching patients how to focus on a single task and block out distractions for better performance on the single chore or task without interruption
- Suggesting memory tricks and ways to keep track of things that are hard to remember, finding the right tools for the patient (which can range from electronic devices to notepads and pens)
- Determining what activities stimulate the pleasure center of the brain for the patient, and helping them to engage in these, since these activities can improve the resiliency of the brain when damaged by MS
Stress management, self confidence therapy, and psychotherapy are also considered part of cognitive rehabilitation, all of which can help patients feel self-assured in their ability to live a full life, despite the obstacles presented by the disease.
4. Speech and swallowing therapy
When multiple sclerosis progresses, many patients have trouble swallowing, speaking, and taking a deep breath, as the muscle group that completes these functions is affected by nerve damage. Swallowing problems are especially of concern, since this can affect nutrition and balanced diet.
Rehabilitation with the assistance of lung specialists and speech therapists can help provide a number of techniques that reduce the effects of the symptoms on everyday living, with suggestions such as:
- Positions in which eating and swallowing is easiest
- When to rest and the best times to eat
- Learning how to double swallow for best effect
- Slowing down when talking
- Articulation and enunciation
- Improving and strengthening the voice
5. Vocational rehabilitation
Holding a full-time job can be difficult, since patients have no clue when MS might flare up. Vocational therapists can help in this avenue, providing support in finding employers who can work within the limitations of MS and training patients for new positions that aren’t as difficult for those with impaired mobility. They also have means by which to help existing employers improve conditions for MS patients as well as experts who can offer legal advice.
A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis doesn’t have to be devastating. There are many paths to take to help patients manage the disease and its symptoms, even when they only seem to appear randomly. The various options for rehabilitation also offer hope for more advanced cases, in which disability is more pronounced. Even then, these resources provide the best aids out there for managing a long, healthy, and fulfilling life for patients with MS.