Adaptive Technology for Improving Life With MS

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that gradually destroys the myelin sheath which insulates nerve fibers within the central nervous system. When myelin is damaged or destroyed by MS, communication signals between the brain and spinal cord are disrupted. This disruption of electrical messages within the CNS can lead to physical limitations that interfere with daily activities.

This article reviews various assistive technologies—also known as adaptive technologies—that help people living with MS perform everyday tasks, maintain independence, and optimize their quality of life. 

Older man with MS in wheelchair looking at phone

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Adaptive Technology for MS

There are various adaptive technologies available for people living with MS to assist them with daily living, including apps, wheelchairs, and other devices.

Voice Command

Voice-activated assistive devices can help with everything from adjusting the thermostat in your house to turning on a hands-free "smart faucet" in the kitchen to writing a speech-to-text correspondence on your computer. 

Voice recognition technology has been around since the 1950s, but it has advanced by leaps and bounds since the 2000s. Speech recognition software includes:

  • Amazon's Alexa and Smart Home System 
  • Apple's Siri
  • Dragon Anywhere, Dragon Professional
  • Google Assistant, Google Docs Voice Typing
  • Microsoft Cortana 
  • Voice Finger

For those with nonstandard speech, Voiceitt is a groundbreaking voice command technology that learns to understand specific phrases the way a person with MS-related dysarthria (slurring) might pronounce them. This assistive technology connects to Alexa and other smart home devices. 

Smartphone Apps

Mobile smartphone applications (apps) are readily available self-management tools that help people living with MS manage the disease, feel empowered, and improve quality of life. Numerous MS-specific apps for managing this condition can be found at the Apple Store or Google Play.

Some apps for better living with MS include:

Assistive Robotic Arm

Assistive technologies, such as robotic arms, help people with MS perform activities of daily living (ADLs) and stay independent.

For those living with debilitating primary-progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS), robotic arms can grasp and move objects. The latest mind-controlled robotic arms have fingertips that evoke tactile sensations and are operated "telepathically" using brain-computer interfaces.

Wheelchairs

Mobility assistive devices are vital to maintaining independence and quality of life when physical limitations make it harder to move around. Manual wheelchairs for people with MS should be lightweight, easy to maneuver, and collapsible.

Propelling a wheelchair stimulates circulation and is good exercise. However, if an electric wheelchair or motorized scooter is prescribed, it's important to do daily standing exercises and get the blood circulating with other forms of physical therapy for MS, if possible.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Devices

Noninvasive neurotherapy treatments such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) show promise for the treatment of MS symptoms including fatigue, depression, and pain.

A small trial found that tDCS reduced MS-related fatigue in some people but concluded that larger clinical trials are needed to test its effectiveness.

Online Support Groups

Virtual MS support groups bring people together online and create a sense of community. Benefits of joining an online support group include:

  • Sharing common life experiences unique to living with MS
  • Learning tested coping strategies firsthand
  • Feeling part of a nurturing and supportive social network
  • Experiencing the positive effects of lending a helping hand to others in need

Join a Support Group

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society brings people together via online MS communities. These groups also meet in person. To find a local support group, you can use their online navigator, chat with someone at 800-344-4867, or use their Contact Us form.

Benefits of Adaptive Technology

"Adaptive technology" (AT) is a broad term that describes any technological device that assists people when performing daily activities, promotes self-reliance, and improves quality of life. AT can help people with MS at every stage of disease progression.

The benefits of adaptive technology stem from their ability to compensate for a broad range of MS-related deficits, such as reduced motor function, sensory impairments, weakness, and fatigue, that interfere with daily activities and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs).

How to Access Technology for MS

There are numerous organizations that can provide useful information about how to access assistive technology for MS, including:

  • Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs (ATAP)
  • Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA)
  • International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC)
  • American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association (ASHA)
  • Pass It On Center (Georgia Tech's assistive technology reuse program)
  • Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA)

Using Insurance to Pay for Adaptive Technology

Sometimes getting insurance to pay for adaptive technology is challenging. Having medical evidence of a formal MS diagnosis is the most important factor when making a disability claim.

Summary

There are various adaptive technologies that can improve quality of life for people living with multiple sclerosis. They are designed to help people with MS perform activities of daily living, many of which require physical movement.

Some examples of these adaptive technologies include voice command, smartphone apps, assistive robotic arms, mobility aids, and neurotherapy treatments such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Many technology associations offer information on how to access these technologies.

A Word From Verywell

Living with MS can present an ever-changing array of daily challenges. The emotional process of accepting that assistive technology might improve your quality of life can be difficult. But once you've decided to start using assistive technologies that fit your lifestyle, it's likely that you'll feel liberated and empowered. By letting technology do some of the work associated with many activities of daily living, you'll have more energy to do the things you love.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you live a normal life with MS?

    Although certain types of multiple sclerosis disrupt daily life, adaptive technologies make it possible for people with MS to continue performing many activities of daily living. Life with MS may not feel "normal," but it's possible to create a "new normal" and flourish while living with this condition.

  • What are the benefits of adaptive technology for MS?

    The biggest benefits of adaptive technology for MS are their ability to increase independence and improve quality of life. Assistive technology can help people with multiple sclerosis perform activities of daily living at every stage of disease progression.

  • What are the physical effects of MS?
  • What are the mental health effects of MS?

    Multiple sclerosis can take a heavy toll on mental health. One of the most distressing aspects of this disease is its lack of predictability. The uncertainty of MS symptoms can lead to a range of mental health effects such free-floating anxiety, depressionanger, and psychological fatigue.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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