How Wearable Devices May Help Monitor Your MS

Using Technology to Track Your MS Health

Motion Wearable Device to Monitor Your MS

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Research has found that people with multiple sclerosis (MS) are generally less physically active than healthy people.

Unfortunately, a sedentary lifestyle can worsen MS symptoms and lead to a more rapid progression of disability. In order to prevent this worsening, neurologists and rehabilitation specialists are turning to technology, such as motion wearable devices, to create awareness around activity levels.

These devices can be worn at home to track and record data about physical activity, as well as to measure other useful parameters, like sleep patterns and posture.

The hope is that by monitoring people with MS in their own homes, doctors can get a better sense of a person's daily activity level. This could ultimately allow for improved management of their disease.

Types of Motion Wearable Devices

Motion wearable devices are typically worn at the waist, ankle, wrist, or chest.

Embedded within these devices are biosensors, which are programmed to record various parameters, such as:

  • Physical activity
  • Body temperature
  • Calories burned
  • Heart rate
  • Blood oxygen saturation

A classic example of a motion wearable device is the pedometer, which measures how many steps a person takes in a day. Most pedometers then convert those steps into a preferred distance, either miles or kilometers.

Even more advanced is the accelerometer, which measures the intensity and frequency of movement over continuous time intervals (e.g., number of steps per minute).

There is also the gyroscope. This measures how a person maintains a stable posture (posture naturally declines in people with MS).

Besides aspects of walking and balance, motion wearable devices can also measure periods of physical inactivity or even, fall occurrences.

Specifically, pressure sensors, which can be placed in a sock or shoe, are only activated when a person is in the standing position (when pressure is applied).

There are also sensors for fall detection. These are traditionally used in the elderly population but can be useful in the MS population for those with balance issues that are at risk for falls.

Devices that have sleep sensors are also available. They measure information about a person's sleep cycle, such as the quality and quantity of sleep. These sensors are especially important as sleep disorders, like insomnia and restless leg syndrome, are common in people with MS and can contribute to debilitating fatigue and depression.

Potential Benefits of Motion Wearable Devices

The primary benefit of using a motion wearable device is that it can give doctors and their patients objective, meaningful data about their MS and overall health.

Let's use walking as an example.

Nearly 50% of people with progressive MS report walking problems within the first month of diagnosis and over 90% report mobility impairment in the first 10 years.

By tracking a person's walking speed, the number of steps, and stride length, a motion wearable device may be able to depict how exactly an individual's "walk" is impaired by MS.

With this concrete data, a person can then work with their physical or occupational therapist to not only improve their fitness level, but also address their unique gait pattern, and its impact on their daily routine.

Another benefit is that motion wearable devices provide accurate depictions of disability. While more research is needed, one study found that the data recorded from various devices correlated well with traditional tools used to monitor disability in MS, such as the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS).

Lastly, most wearable devices have been designed to be easy to use for the end consumer. Most of these devices can sync with websites or phone apps. These statistics can then be tracked, trended and shared easily with a patient's health team to help aid in the development of a plan of care.

Potential Downsides of Motion Wearable Devices

As with any new form of technology, there are always potential downsides to consider. Some people may find these devices noisy, costly, uncomfortable, or even intrusive.

Others may find their device to be burdensome in the sense that it's another thing they need to charge or turn on every day.

Research suggests that although the devices are accurate, the accuracy of the devices may vary based on the type of sensor being used, and where it is located on the body. Finally, privacy and security are additional factors to consider.

Going a Step Forward: Other Forms of Health Technology

It's worthy to mention that smartphone applications that sync to these devices enable a more advanced use than just having "wearable technology". While data recorded from motion wearable devices can be synced with smartphone apps (as mentioned above), these apps have other uses too that can be integrated with the management of a person's daily life, such as diet, weight, body fat, and heart rate

Research shows that they can be used to assess a variety of MS-related problems. For example, in one study, a smartphone app was used to assess visual fields in people with MS. This is very useful considering that visual impairment is common in MS.

Smartphone apps can also be used as self-management tools.

In one study of patients with progressive MS with moderate to severe fatigue, a smartphone app called MS TeleCoach was used to monitor activity and then provide motivational and instructional messages about energy management.

Over this 12-week study period, results revealed an improvement in fatigue scores. This is really exciting considering how prevalent and debilitating fatigue can be in people with MS.

A Word From Verywell

If accurate and thorough, the information provided from a motion wearable device may be able to paint a true picture of an individual's daily activity level and neurological function.

This information can then be used to promote healthy behaviors, improve MS symptoms (e.g., fatigue or weakness), and/or perhaps even slow down disability progression.

9 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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Additional Reading

By Colleen Doherty, MD
 Colleen Doherty, MD, is a board-certified internist living with multiple sclerosis.