AbilityNet attends Annual MS Trust Conference

AbilityNet took our stand to the MS Trust's annual conference as part of our campaign to raise awareness of how we can help people living with the neurological condition. Here are five things we discovered while we were there. 

Free Services Manager Sarah Brain with the AbilityNet standThe MS Trust conference (3-5 November 2019) brought together healthcare professionals including Occupational Therapists (OTs), physiotherapists and MS Trust Nurses. Over 300 people pre-registered to attend the event held at Jury's Inn, Hinckley Island including 60 first-timers. AbilityNet had a stand in one of two Expo areas to promote awareness of how a computer can benefit people living with MS, and how our nationwide network of disclosure-checked volunteers can help people living with MS.

It was great to meet people at the stand, including MS nurses and other healthcare professionals and to see their genuine excitement about how we can become a part of their multi-disciplinary teams. 

The conference had a number of break-out sessions and a poster 'speed dating' where researchers and healthcare professionals showcased some of the innovative work they are doing to improve diagnosis, treatment and care for people living with MS. 

We attended the afternoon sessions and learned more about MS and how it affects individuals. Here are five things we discovered to give a flavour of the event. 

5 things we discovered at the MS Trust annual conference

1. Links between Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis

Image shows and inflatable sunshine with a smiley face in long grass with a blue sky overheadThe link between Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) "remains a controversial issue," said Dr Joost Smolders, a neurology resident at Nijmegen. Confessing he's been "indoctrinated to believe vitamins are good for us", Dr Smolder gave a whistlestop overview of relevant research including his work, which has discovered that people with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS)  with lower levels of Vitamin D may be more prone to relapses. He has also discovered that people with secondary progressive MS tend to have lower levels of Vitamin D. 

More Vitamin D is absorbed through exposure to sunlight than is absorbed through food, he explained.

In Australia, there is a lower risk of attacks for people with progressive MS, which may be due to exposure to sunlight although other studies have explored how MS prevalence differs depending on where you live.

Opinion varies as to the extent to which people with MS should supplement Vitamin D

2. Food coma and MS

We've all experienced that feeling after a big meal of wanting to have a long nap. This so-called food coma may be more prevalent in people living with MS, explained Professor Gavin Giovannoni, Professor of Neurology, London speaking to conference attendees. 

Professor Giovannoni and colleagues conducted an online survey of people with MS about the phenomenon of 'postprandial somnolence' (drowsiness following a meal). The survey found that 84.9% of respondents felt excessively sleepy after eating. He found it is more common than in people who don't have MS. Future research could explore specific food types that produce the drowsiness although the study would require more involvement from more people. 

3. Gut bacteria and MS

Image shows cross section of the stomach with caricatured bacteria insideThere are trillions of bugs living inside of us weighing 2Kg, which is heavier than the human brain, according to Dr Peter Connick, Honorary Consultant Neurologist and Senior Research Fellow in Regenerative Neurology, Edinburgh. It's for these reasons that these microbes are often called "the forgotten organ". 

Dr Connick is studying microbes in the gut and how these communicate with the brain, with a view to understanding what causes MS.

He believes it's possible that the gut microbiome might have a role in triggering or ramping up the body's immune system's faulty response in MS. He is interested in a westernisation, which has led to a reduction in the types of microbiomes in the gut, and in discovering if there's an ideal MS diet. 

4. Continuing sport with MS

Shows screen shot of news story about Spencer from MS trust website; Spencer is swimmingArguably, the most inspiring talk of the afternoon was from Spencer Bull. Spencer is a former infantry soldier who served between 1989 and 2017 when he was discharged from the army on medical grounds because of his MS.

Spencer was first diagnosed with MS in 2005 after experiencing pins and needles while with his wife in Kuwait. 

He spoke about how "we, and not 'I' live with MS," particularly after his discharge when they lost their house, and their support network. 

Read AbilityNet's article on where to find online support groups for people living with MS and their carers

He struggled with the diagnosis and says it took him six years to accept it. "I wrestled with the concept of MS and the fact I could no longer kick a ball around with my family. I wasn't able to cut the grass on a Sunday," he said. 

With help from his family and from Help for Heroes, Spencer learned to adapt and in 2017 competed in the Invictus Games. He's also acquired a hand bike and been on a bike ride with his family, which he says "put a bigger smile on my face than if I had come first [in the games]."

Spencer advises others living with MS to set personal goals; by achieving them you have won gold. 

5. Support from AbilityNet

AbilityNet designed a bespoke leaflet to inform people living with MS, and the professionals who support them, as to how AbilityNet can help them. OK, so technically we knew that already but here are some ways AbilityNet can help people living with MS:

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm on 0800 269 545.

Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.

We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.

My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.