On the 22nd of September 2018 I visited the Irish MS Conference in Athlone, Ireland. This is the first MS Conference I attended. Over the day I met other people with MS and to hear talks discussing exercise, mental health and an overview of MS and quality of life. Despite the different topics there was a consistent thread.
As someone with MS for over 25 years I have walked unaided, and now need a walking stick, or even a scooter. Medicine in this time has made significant progress in developing treatments for this neurological disease.
One of the common links between the talks was the importance of exercise. Jens Bansi was the main speaker on the topic and his research has shown that consistent exercise, in whatever form has a physical benefit of slowing the advance of the symptoms of MS. This was not the main point of his talk. The emphasis was that this physical movement had the added, and the most important, contribution of improving the cognition of the patient. The added blood flow, and oxygenation, improved the plasticity of the brain. In simple terms, this means that by doing something strenuous (everything that will make you breathe harder) you are helping your brain find ways of bypassing damage caused by MS.
This was a revelation and highlighted that I have a role in the management of my illness. One reality of MS is that our brains, most times, loose volume faster than the general population. This could lead to a loss of cognitive abilities. Now, based on what I heard from Jens Bansi, Professor Gavin Giovannoni and Sabina Brennan, this loss of mental ability will slow by me climbing the stairs in my house. This is extremely powerful.
Each speaker at the conference mentioned Vitamin D as a contributing component (along with smoking), causing MS. Dr. Kate O’Brien of Genomics Medicine Ireland stated that MS is awakened by a mix of genetics (112 different genes) and environmental factors. Prof. Giovannoni stated that not only should we as people with multiple sclerosis take vitamin D, our children should too.
This was a shock and I am wondering how many doctors prescribe this to our children. I know the HSE will only test Vitamin D levels if a neurologist requests it. Perhaps it should be a mandatory test.
I learned many new things at this conference. It was comforting to be among a group of people that understand how I felt. We are living in the age of electronics and you will view the talks soon on the MS Ireland website. (See clip below). I encourage you to listen to the talks. Over the next week I will listen again as I am sure I missed loads while I was trying to Tweet at the event. I’ll be reserving a space for next year as soon as they have the date set.