LENS Health and Wellness

Remote Help for People with MS

Using the Internet and Phone to Teach Strategies to Combat Fatigue

Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which affects 2.3 million people worldwide, has no cure, and drugs can't completely manage the overwhelming fatigue accompanying the progressive nerve disease.

As many researchers work to find a cure, others, including Matthew Plow, PhD, an assistant professor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University, are focused on reducing the symptoms.

"There is a growing emphasis on how to better live with the help of effective non-drug solutions that can lessen fatigue," Plow said.

For several years, Plow has been testing the effectiveness of home-based exercise programs and other strategies for people with MS. He is lead researcher on a new four-year, $4.9 million grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute—an independent nonprofit authorized by Congress—to assess how teaching fatigue management strategies by phone or online compares with in-person instruction.

Those strategies, all taught by a licensed occupational therapist, include "banking" energy in advance of a task, and tracking how a person "spends" limited energy to meet meaningful goals.

The new study will gauge the effectiveness of all three communication methods. It will include a diverse group of more than 600 participants in the Midwest, many of them living in rural areas.

Plow also received a nearly $238,000 grant awarded by a medical research arm of the U.S. Army to develop a mobile app for teaching self-management strategies to people with MS. While that technology would seem to make instruction more accessible, it also can pose a challenge. People with MS have said using hand-held devices is difficult because of visual impairment or shakiness.

"That's exactly why we have to listen to the people who use the tools," he said. "Overall, though, if remote-access self-management tools prove to work well, they could be recommended more by clinicians and possibly insurance companies covering them. That could be a big help."

—Mike Scott