New technologies to help fight the effects of MS

By Ted Brown, MD

EvergreenHealth MS Center


Many representations of the ever-expanding role of technology in our lives depict the dangers of technology as dehumanizing, depersonalizing, and disengaging. See for example the classic novel, Brave New World, published in 1932, authored by Aldous Huxley.

We all need to use caution in adopting technology that may complicate our lives and increase our reliance on non-human devices for performing our daily activities, outdating skills that we may have been using for years and decades such as remembering facts and calculating numbers.

On the other hand, for people living with MS and finding it harder to maintain their jobs, activities and lifestyles, technology offers great hope. Scientists, doctors, assistive technology experts, and physical and occupational therapists are discovering an amazing variety of technology applications that can help people living with disability to get things done.

I would assert that all health professionals have an ethical duty to keep up with new technology, just as we need to keep up with developments in medicine and rehabilitation.

In my personal practice, most of what I learn about new adaptive technology comes from my patients. Lately, I have been taking a more active approach to learning about various technologies that can help people to overcome limitations of vision, hand function, mobility and cognitive function.

ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES

Last month, the EvergreenHealth MS Center hosted a workshop on Adaptive Technology in MS. Among the topics we discussed were new robotic devices that may be used to assist people in regaining walking ability or hand function.

We discussed new technology used in physical rehabilitation, such as computerized balance training programs, and treadmills that support a person’s weight by partially enclosing them in an adjustable, air filled, low-gravity environment, reducing pain and risk of injury.

In occupational therapy, there are an array of gadgets to make it easier to dress oneself, prepare a meal, improve organization or do other activities.

There are also smart-phone applications that can remind a person to take their medications or help them to send a hands-free text message if they don’t have the ability to type out a message on their own.

Speech Therapy is utilizing communication devices to help people with impaired speech, hearing and vision.

One of my favorites is a new device (Horus™) that is worn as a pair of glasses to assist blind and visually impaired people during the entire day. It uses a video processor to read notes, identify and understand what is in front of a person and then reads the information to the wearer via a bone-conduction headpiece. So, you might pick up a package at a grocery store and it will read to you the ingredients and the expiration date.

We also had a talk on driving technology with the promise of making driving safer through features that may be found in mainstream cars or adaptive features that can enable a person with paralysis to drive. While people may fear autonomous vehicles, I think that most of us would like to be able to use one someday if we should become unable to safely drive ourselves.

Where can you get information about assistive technology (AT)?

  • Abledata.com is a website clearing house where you can search for a huge variety of devices to help with daily activities.
  • Need some direction from an assistive technology expert? This link provides a national directory of certified AT professionals: http://www.resna.org/member-directory/individual.
  • More information about AT, device demonstration and another listing of AT professionals can also be found at: WATAP.org. WATAP also has a lending service which allows you to trial a device before committing to buy it.
  • Locally, Provail (Provail.org) is quite knowledgeable about AT for wheelchairs and communication devices.
  • Sight Connection sightconnection.org provides technology for vision impairment. They have self-help groups which are often a great resource for ideas to overcome limitations in function.
  • Washington Access Fund washingtonaccessfund.org offers low interest rate loans for the purchase of assistive technology.

At the EvergreenHealth MS Center, we do our best to be “user-friendly.” Please feel welcome to ask your healthcare provider for advice on technology. We may not always have an answer, but hopefully we can keep learning together.