May is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness month. Did you know that Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world, with an estimated 90,000 Canadians living with the disease? Those living with MS may experience health difficulties such as anxiety and lower overall quality of life due to chronic pain and factors out of their control like long wait times for clinical care.
However, health promotion initiatives run by student-led organizations like the UNBC MS Student Support Club (UMSSC) can benefit the MS community and potentially improve the quality of care for clients living with MS in Northern BC. Founded by Bruce Danesh in 2020, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UMSSC was created to help organize and advocate for clients living with MS in the North "to connect and empower the MS community to make positive change."
How UMSSC has benefitted the community
Since 2020, the UMSSC team has actively hosted tables and information sessions on campus to raise awareness among students and faculty members about MS. The club organizes many diverse and inclusive activities, including some that connect students and MS clients with faculty members who live with MS, such as Dr. Kendra Furber and Dr. Rheana Robinson, who provide valuable insights into both MS research and personal experiences.
The UMSSC has also collaborated with the MS Society of Canada (now known as MS Canada) to organize national webinars on important MS-related topics. One such webinar, called "The Role of Exercise and Multiple Sclerosis", aims to educate participants on the benefits of exercise for people living with MS.
UMSSC has been innovative in engaging and educating people about MS using techniques like Instagram takeovers, where the club invited guests living with MS to take the lead on their social media account for a day, and followers of the club's page were able to ask questions directly and learn more about the personal side of MS. Activities like these allow people to share their personal experiences and provide a glimpse into what it's like to live with MS.
The UMSSC's biggest project to date may be its partnerships and collaboration with the Northern Health Regional MS Clinic and other MS-related community groups and organizations. Together they have improved access and care for residents of Northern BC who are living with MS by connecting them with interested student volunteers from CNC and UNBC as well as those who have MS in the community.
University clubs can do more
In Canada, patients with MS are significant users of healthcare services, but recent studies show that they often have unmet needs, a heavy burden of illness, and are dissatisfied with their care. Fortunately, university clubs have the potential to supplement MS care by offering fitness classes, healthy eating workshops, and more. This is a unique opportunity for students to gain practical experience while giving back to their communities.
Clubs like the UMSSC harness the passion and energy of students to create a more dynamic and effective approach to promoting health and wellness. The MS Club at UNBC can serve as a successful model for other clubs to follow; through collaboration and outreach, they impact the well-being of MS patients and others in need, while providing learning opportunities and practical experience for students.
25th Annual Prince George MS Walk Sunday May 28, 11 am
One way to show support for those living with MS is to participate in the MS Walk, an annual event that raises funds and awareness. The 25th Annual MS Walk in Prince George is happening on May 28 at 11 am at Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park. This is a great opportunity to get involved, meet others in the community, and help make a difference in the lives of those living with MS.
Connecting and contributing through the UMSSC can make a big difference in your life. Founder and volunteer Bruce Danesh states, “through a volunteer role as the MS Ambassador of Prince George BC, I witnessed first-hand the challenges faced by patients with MS in our community. This motivated me to pursue a career in healthcare, where I can make a meaningful difference and help bridge the gap for those living with MS in the North. Through continued education as an occupational therapist, I hope I can become a competent healthcare professional and contribute to the betterment of healthcare services for all.”
MS – What you need to know
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a chronic neurological disease that affects the central nervous system. It's a complex and often unpredictable disease that causes damage to the protective covering of nerve fibers that results in communication problems between the brain and other parts of the body.
Causes of MS
MS is believed to be an autoimmune disorder. In people with MS, the immune system attacks the myelin, which is the protective covering of nerve fibers in the central nervous system. This damage disrupts the transmission of nerve impulses and can lead to a variety of symptoms. While the exact cause of MS is not yet known, researchers believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may play a role, including:
- Family history: People who have a family member with MS are at an increased risk of developing the disease themselves.
- Age: MS is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.
- Sex: Women are more likely to develop MS than men.
- Geographic location: MS is more common in temperate climates than in tropical or subtropical areas.
Symptoms of MS
The symptoms of MS can vary widely, it depends on where the central nervous system has been affected and how seriously. Common symptoms of MS include:
- Difficulty walking
- Numbness or tingling in the limbs
- Blurred or double vision
- Problems with coordination and balance
- Muscle weakness or spasticity
- Cognitive difficulties, such as memory problems or difficulty concentrating
MS can be a challenging disease to live with for both those living with the illness and their loved ones. It can be frustrating and overwhelming dealing with the unpredictable nature of the disease and finding the right treatment and management strategies.
Diagnosis of MS
There is no single test that can diagnose MS. Instead, diagnosis is typically based on a combination of factors, including medical history, neurological examination, and diagnostics. These may include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): an imaging test to detect areas of damage in the brain and spinal cord
- Lumbar puncture: where a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is taken from the spinal cord is examined for abnormalities
- Evoked potentials: to measure the electrical activity in the brain and help to identify problems with nerve function.
Treatment of MS
While there is no cure for MS, there are many different treatments available to help manage symptoms, prevent/delay disability and improve quality of life. The Northern Health Regional MS clinic base in Prince George provides treatment to people living with MS in Northern BC. Treatments may include:
- Physical therapy
- Lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, which can help manage symptoms and improve overall health and well-being.