Occupational Therapy and Multiple Sclerosis: How Can Occupational Therapy Help MS Patients?

A type of autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disabling disease that affects the brain and spinal cord or the central nervous system. In people with MS, the immune system starts attacking the protective sheath, known as myelin that covers the nerves. This leads to communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body. Over time, the disease can lead to deterioration or permanent damage to the nerves. This damage to the nerves cannot be reversed. It is possible to live a healthier, stronger, and more fulfilling life even with Multiple sclerosis (MS) with the help of occupational therapy. What exactly is occupational therapy, and how can it help people with Multiple sclerosis (MS)? Read on to learn more about occupational therapy and multiple sclerosis.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that impacts the spinal cord and brain. In people with this condition, the immune system starts attacking the protective coating that is present on your nerves, known as myelin. (1) These attacks by the immune system cause damage to the myelin coating, and as the myelin starts to wear away, it disrupts the communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Over a period of time, Multiple sclerosis (MS) can cause permanent damage and destroy these nerves completely. This damage, once caused, cannot be reversed.

There are many signs and symptoms of Multiple sclerosis (MS), and the symptoms you develop depend a great deal on the extent of damage that has already been caused to your nerves and also on which nerves are being targeted by the disease. The type of Multiple sclerosis (MS) you have also had a role to play in determining how rapidly your symptoms progress. (2)

If you have Multiple sclerosis (MS), there are many ways in which you can continue to live a full and healthy life as your body learns to cope with the disease, and you learn to deal with your diagnosis. One of the main ways is with the help of occupational therapy.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy (OT) is a popular healthcare therapy that helps people who have special needs in order to live a more productive and independent life. (3)

It is very similar to physical therapy, but with certain key differences. So while physical therapy focuses more on the mobility part of the body, such as increasing the overall strength, joint range of motion, gross motor skills, and coordination, Occupational therapy (OT) focuses on helping a person perform everyday activities with more independence.

Occupational therapists work to help people live a better life in spite of having a serious illness or disability. The therapists do this by improving the skills a person requires to accomplish their daily tasks or by finding alternative ways of performing these daily activities.

Some of the services that Occupational therapists offers include (4):

  • Assisting the patient with routine daily activities such as cooking their food, taking a shower, and even getting dressed.
  • Assessing the home and work environment to evaluate any potential hazards and to create a more functional environment for suiting the needs of the patient.
  • Recommending assistive devices or special equipment for use at home, work, or school.
  • Showing patients how to correctly use adaptive devices such as braces, orthotics, or wheelchairs.
  • Helping with scheduling, daily planning, and even monthly budgeting.
  • Working with workplaces or schools to ensure that patients are able to meet their goals.
  • Recommending an exercising plan for strengthening fine motor skills, mental alertness, and coordination.
  • Teaching patients skills necessary for stress management.

How Can Occupational Therapy Help MS Patients?

Occupational therapy (OT) can help people with Multiple sclerosis (MS) learn how to take care of themselves while living with the disease. Here are some examples of how MS patients can benefit from Occupational therapy (OT).

Helping with Daily Activities

One of the basic goals of Occupational therapy (OT) is to help you live a more independent life, and when you have MS, accomplishing even day-to-day routine activities can prove to be a challenge. An occupational therapist will work with you to provide you the tools you need for performing these daily chores in a more efficient manner.

Your occupational therapist will help you understand how to do the following activities in a more effective way:

  • Taking a shower
  • Using the bathroom
  • Taking your medications
  • Working
  • Driving
  • Cleaning
  • Getting dressed
  • Cleaning
  • Grooming
  • Meal preparation
  • Laundry
  • Hobbies

This is especially necessary for people with Multiple sclerosis (MS) when the symptoms of the disease start to affect their memory, concentration, and their organizational skills. Or when the condition makes you feel fatigued at all times.

How To Conserve Your Energy?

One of the more significant challenges that people with Multiple sclerosis (MS) face is energy conservation. Exerting yourself or getting physically tired very quickly can prove to be disabling when you have MS. Being overly fatigued can even lead to a flare-up of your Multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, or make an ongoing flare worse. This is a concern for both you and your doctor because it is not always possible for patients to recover from the damage that has been caused during a flare-up.

Your occupational therapist will help you learn to use your energy in beneficial ways. They will ensure that you do not end up harming yourself during a flare by stressing yourself too much. An occupational therapist will help you identify and use the best available tools and techniques that will help you simplify your tasks and also reduce the burden of doing these tasks on your body.

Setting up Adaptive Equipment at Work, Home, or School

One of the most important jobs that an occupational therapist has is to understand how you are interacting with your work, home, and school environments. The therapist will work together with you to identify ways in which these interactions can be improved based on your needs.

There are many types of assistive or adaptive technologies and gadgets available today that help increase your independence. Your occupational therapist will help you find the right ones that will be of the most help to you.

Some examples of these assistive and adaptive gadgets that can help people with Multiple sclerosis (MS) include:

  • Walkers, canes, and wheelchairs
  • Bathroom equipment such as grab bars to prevent falls
  • Jar openers
  • Weighted utensils to counteract hand tremors
  • Gadgets that improve safety and comfort while driving
  • “Reacher” tool for picking up items off the ground
  • Visual aids such as magnifying readers
  • Writing and reading aids such as pencil grips
  • Software for computer screen reader

Cognitive Rehabilitation

An occupational therapist will help evaluate you for any issues with concentration, memory, and your problem-solving skills. They will then also find solutions to compensate for these cognitive issues.

Based on your cognitive state, your occupational therapist may advise computerized cognitive training. They may also help you learn how to use certain smartphone apps to help you remember about important dates, events and also to manage your finances.

Improving Coordination and Strength

Many people who have Multiple sclerosis (MS) end up losing strength and coordination in their hands, making it very difficult to carry out the simplest of tasks. Even the buttoning of a shirt becomes very difficult for them. An occupational therapist helps teach you exercise routines that will increase the strength and range of motion in your hands.

Your therapist will also teach you about various adaptive technologies that are available to help meet your day to day needs and also to help you overcome a lack of strength in your hands.

How Do You Decide If You Need Occupational Therapy?

Keep in mind that not everyone with Multiple sclerosis (MS) will require an occupational therapist. If your doctor recommends the need for occupational therapy, then you should ask your doctor itself for a referral first.

Your doctor will also recommend Occupational therapy (OT) if your Multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms:

  • Have started affecting your ability to perform daily chores and it prevents you from taking good care of yourself
  • Are making it difficult to be productive at home, work, or school
  • Are preventing you from enjoying your hobbies or other activities
  • Most insurance plans tend to cover the services of an occupational therapist if referred by a doctor.

Conclusion

Looking at the severity of your Multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms and your overall condition, your doctor may advise you to consult an occupational therapist. When you are recently diagnosed with MS, then your occupational therapist will carry out a full examination to establish a baseline for what your natural abilities are and what limitations you have. After this, your occupational therapist may visit your home, your workplace, or your school to understand and get a sense of your environment and evaluate your needs at these places.

Patients who have advanced Multiple sclerosis (MS) and have lost some of their abilities due to the progression of the disease are more likely to see an occupational therapist.

At the advanced stage of the disease, energy conservation becomes more and more critical, especially as the disease keeps progressing. An occupational therapist will help you find ways to not only take care of your body in the diseased condition but will also find ways to help maintain your independence and helping you achieve greater mobility with Multiple sclerosis (MS).

References:

  1. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. (2019). What Is MS?. [online] Available at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019].
  2. Mssociety.org.uk. (2019). What is MS?. [online] Available at: https://www.mssociety.org.uk/about-ms/what-is-ms [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019].
  3. Aota.org. (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.aota.org/Conference-Events/OTMonth/what-is-OT.aspx [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019].
  4. Bls.gov. (2019). Occupational Therapists : Occupational Outlook Handbook : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/mobile/occupational-therapists.htm [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019].

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