Image Credit: Getty Images / Ronnie Kaufman
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How Digital Health Helped My MS Symptoms

Reading time | 6 mins

We all know the world has changed over the last 12 months.

There were good and bad things. One bad thing I noticed was that I became a little bit lazy once the autumn months started. That's not very healthy! I also saw that my walking abilities were becoming a bit more limited, I felt more stiff, and I didn't have as much opportunity to do sports or go out regularly.

One reason for the lack of exercise was the need to work from home. Over the year, and still now, many of us needed to be at our desks to work and attend meetings. Sitting at our desks for so long was not healthy for any of us. Sometimes I felt like I was stuck at my desk without any chance to leave. I didn't take enough care of myself.

Others ran into issues because they were taking much more care of their families. Priorities had changed for many of us, and sometimes we felt overwhelmed. We seemed to forget about ourselves too - that we were humans with needs, wishes and plans. We had to learn to take care of ourselves as well as others.

I realised this after a particularly long meeting. I felt really exhausted, sick and tired. It was clear I had to change things. It was time to go back to regular walks, ask the doctor for advice, and talk to other people with multiple sclerosis [MS] who were experiencing similar issues.

As I did my research, I thought that digital health solutions could be an option. So, I looked online to find what could work best for me. I found that the best option was something that combined online and offline support.

Before I go into the details, I want to say that this combination is excellent. I really love it.

Using My Smartphone to Train My Brain

First, I went onto my smartphone and installed a new app to train my brain again. My old one had become a little boring because there were no new updates available.

My new app is not a "classic" cognitive training app. Instead, it teaches you a new language. I find this is a much more fun way to train your brain, as it brings more variety. I also knit, which helps with my cognitive functions. My smartphone calendar gives me regular updates and reminds me to do these activities.

Another app helps me to meditate and calm down. It's easy to go out into nature with my earphones, listen to the programme, and start to relax. It's a great combination to be outside and combine the virtual with real life.

Brain training solved some problems like exhaustion and tiredness. My nights are now full of sleep, and my mood is great again.

But there was the problem with walking. In the summer, it was easy. I have my eBike, and I would go hiking and swimming. However, in the autumn, the public pool was closed, and hiking is only good on sunny days.

Gyms were also closed. I had my cross-trainer, but I found it boring. Yes, it was a way to exercise, but I needed something to motivate me to stay active.

"I need something like a personal trainer. A person to tell me to walk and burn more calories," I said to my husband. It was around this time I learned more about digital health and refreshed my knowledge. Connected health is something I was really interested in, and looking for motivation was my prompt to do more research.

Finding the Right Digital Health Device for Me

Connected health has a lot of definitions. To put it simply, connected health means electronic devices to help take care of a person and assist in managing any conditions they may have. They can collect data about a patient, such as their step count, pulse and oxygen intake.

Some devices, such as smartwatches or sensors in clothes, can also help collect data about a condition, like tracking symptoms. Connected health allows doctors and patients examine their care in a meaningful and feasible way.

When choosing a digital health device, it is essential to choose CE certified (EU) or FDA approved (USA), as it means it's been approved by the proper authorities. Smartwatches are often a combination of medical device and free too, which allows the wearer to collect diverse health data. In special cases, these watches could do more, but every function needs to be approved. Therefore, not every feature on a smartwatch is available on all devices in every country.

Connecting with My Smartwatch

My decision was made. I bought a smartwatch. The first few days felt unusual, but my smartwatch and I soon became a team.

My smartwatch has sensors and will vibrate when it needs to communicate with me. For example, it will vibrate when I need to stand up and move around. It is also connected to my email account and some social media accounts. There are a lot of alerts going on, and it acts as my multifunctional assistant. Although it felt almost "too much" at first, it now helps me use my time more meaningfully.

My smartwatch reminds me to regularly take a deep breath and to stand up and walk around. It invites me to partake in little challenges every day and asks me if I feel good.

The watch has been with me since October, and I am very satisfied with my new personal trainer. It motivates me in the morning, letting me know what was good the day before and what I could improve. It suggests I change my daily exercise challenges and burn more calories while tracking my progress.

I learned much more about myself. Over the weeks, I started to walk a minimum of two kilometres daily. My walking speed grew faster, and my stiffness reduced. I now have less pain to manage, and the walks help to refresh my mind. This also allows me to deal with upcoming fatigue.

My smartwatch also has an emergency function in case I have an accident. If there's an emergency, I can ask for help via a button. Or, if I don't react to the alerts my watch sends out, it calls the emergency services for me.

The takeaway

Connected health helps you to find out more about yourself, and it will soon become even more popular in our healthcare. We will have more medical devices in place to make our lives more comfortable. The benefits are clear, and many people managing conditions already use digital health devices and symptom trackers. The collected data givers a better picture of the patient's day-to-day life, and it allows doctors to make decisions that lead to better care. 

Digital and connected health help me make changes in my life that keep me in better shape. My husband is also more motivated. He sees my progress and knows how to help me with this little, but very clever, device on my arm. 

Of course, a smartwatch can't replace a therapist or doctor, but it helped turn my life around when I needed it the most. I can't recommend this health technology enough.

What are your experiences with digital health? Would you consider getting a smartwatch? 

NPS-IE-NP-00265 May 2021