Living with Multiple Sclerosis
By Juliet Grundmanis, Physiotherapist
Living with multiple sclerosis (MS) is something that nobody would choose. For some people, the diagnosis can provide a sense of relief, as there is finally an explanation for many of the frustrating and sometimes scary symptoms they have been experiencing. But then comes the question – now what? How long do I have before things get worse? Will I end up in a wheelchair? Will I be able to stay mobile enough to play with my grandkids, go for walks, do the things I love? What happens next?
For a long time, people living with MS were told that there was not a lot they could do to slow or prevent the progression of symptoms. Falls prevention, equipment prescription and learning new techniques to transfer and stay safe were the best rehab that could be offered. These things are still and always will be very important – but after working at the Surrey Neuroplasticity Clinic (SNPC) with MS clients using PoNS Treatment™ for the last 18 months – I can now confidently say that these are not the only options.
The amazing thing about our brains is that they can change, no matter how young or old we are- this is the very definition of neuroplasticity. However, this change doesn’t come for free – just like learning a new language, sport or skill – it takes, time, patience, and a lot of hard work.
Our bodies and brains work on a use-it-or-lose-it principle; this is true for everyone, not just those living with MS. However, it is more common that after an MS flare, when one or more muscles become weakened, clients tend to adapt, find compensatory strategies to continue about their lives, and just write that muscle or leg off as “that’s my bad side.” This can be an effective strategy for a little while, but if this continues for too long, overall mobility may be greatly affected and can lead to overuse injuries and pain on the “stronger” side, and decreased balance from learned non-use of the “weaker” side.
Enter PoNS™ (short for Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator). This little device increases overall electrical activity in the brain, and basically “primes” it to learn whatever may happen next – it is like a strict teacher telling their student to “pay attention to this!” When you place it on your tongue, the brain becomes ready to learn new habits, new skills, and new connections from the body to the brain. While we cannot heal pathways that have been damaged by demyelination, we can help create NEW ways of doing old things.
In the PoNS Treatment™ program, clients have ample time and 1:1 attention from their therapist to help identify those compensations and develop awareness of the habits that may no longer be serving them. They are encouraged to really tune in to their bodies and focus on creating these new connections, and over the initial 14 weeks, there is plenty of time and opportunity to build and strengthen these pathways – in the clinic and at home. This dedicated time with clients is something that does not happen at every clinic, and I truly believe this is one of the keys to the success of my clients. Getting to know people on a personal level, finding out what motivates them, and witnessing their success is one of the many reasons I love my job!
The biggest changes I have seen in clients who undertake the PoNS Treatment™ program come from their drive, dedication and determination to improve their mobility and function. The PoNS Treatment™ certainly helps the brain to be ready to accept the new learning – but clients are still required to do the grunt work of learning how to stand up straight again, activate new muscles that have been dormant, and build new connections from the brain to the body. This hard work takes place every day – repetition is the key to success. Once you master a new task, your PoNS™ therapist will progress the exercise to something more challenging, to ensure you do not plateau with your improvements.
The most amazing thing about working with MS clients using the PoNS™ device is that I have seen hope restored; people now feel that there is SOMETHING they can do about their disease, and they have hope for the future knowing they can take back some control. Empowering these transformations is the absolute best part of my job. Are you ready to experience it?
How to maximize your time in the PoNS Treatment™ program:
- Listen to your body. When you need to rest, rest. Quality of movement is often much more effective than quantity of movement.
- Exercise is medicine; but exercising the RIGHT way is even better medicine.
- Take the leap! A lot of things that you may learn or try in the program may be scary; know that your therapist will never ask you to do something that is unsafe. Sometimes we need to get outside of our comfort zone to see those big changes we want in life!
- Stay cool. Heat can negatively affect a lot of MS symptoms; keeping yourself cool with fans, cooling scarves, etc., is important, especially while you are exercising.
- Know that this is a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. You will learn new habits, techniques, and skills that you will need to implement for a long time – maybe even the rest of your life! If you stop using your new skills, you may lose them. Just like each of us needs to exercise to remain healthy, you may need to continue practicing your balance and gait for many years to come.
If you are ready to take back control over your life, contact us to see how we can help!