Highlights from Annual MS Conference

This week Niamh McCarron recaps on the 2017 annual MS conference in Sligo.

On Saturday 23rd of September, MS Ireland held their annual conference in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Sligo. The theme of the day was “Quality of Life and its Relationship with MS”, and attendees were treated to a range of topics relating to living well with MS.

I reckon a lot of us put our own needs way down to the bottom of the priority list -  after kids, and housework, and jobs, there is little time left over. It can feel indulgent and superficial, but it’s so important to take a breather when we can. I am so guilty of this myself, there is always something to do, but I headed off to the conference, ready to learn more. The conference was also live streamed, making the talks accessible to people far and wide. 

First up...

Dr Orla Gray, Consultant Neurologist, Ulster Hospital, “MS Treatments & Management in Improving Quality of Life”
Dr Gray spoke about what MS is, how it manifests and how its management has changed. She explained how early diagnosis and treatment can really help us to keep well for longer. I love listening to talks by neurologists, and seeing the science behind MS. I don’t understand much of it, but I love hearing the perspectives of people who dedicate their careers to research and treatments. 

Dr. Sinead Hynes, Occupational Therapy Dept, NUIG “Cognition and MS” 
I was very interested in hearing Sinead explain the importance of our cognitive function and MS. MS can impact our ability to remember, to follow a conversation, to learn new things. Many of my MS friends have had the dreaded “Cog Fog” -  where our brains just don’t seem to connect. Sometimes it’s hard to remember the correct word, or how to do a task.  Sinead gave us great tips like using apps to record dates and appointments, and being aware and mindful of how we are feeling. Taking time early on to have a “Brain Break”, can prevent total cognitive fatigue later.

Dr. Deirdre Corby, DCU School of Nursing, “Evidence Supporting Assistive Technology”
Deirdre spoke about how assistive technology can impact on someone’s quality of life, helping them to maintain their independence. Her presentation made me more aware of the assistive technology available, and how it can help people with MS. For example, I didn’t realise assistive technology doesn’t have to be electronic or computerised, it can be something simple like a gripper on your keys.  Small things, that make a big difference!

William Ryan, Continence Advisor, “Bladder Management”
William gave a great talk on how the bladder works. Lots of people with MS have bladder problems, like the need to go to the bathroom frequently, or unexpectedly.  Other people don’t have the ability to fully empty their bladder, which can lead to infections. Some people have both! William was so positive, in discussing what can be an isolating, embarrassing and uncomfortable issue.  Attendees also kindly shared their stories about learning how to self-catheterise, which has given them back their independence.

Mary Anada Shakti, “Laughter Yoga”
Fellow blogger Joan went to Mary’s Laughter Yoga group, and had a ball! When I spoke to her and other attendees later, they all said how much they enjoyed it. Mary got the group to sit in a circle to do silly things. They did a lot of laughing and interacted with each other physically. Joan reported sore cheeks from laughing and that she went in feeling a 4 and came out feeling a 10! 

Dympna McNamee, Social Worker, “Strategies to Manage Change”
After lunch, all the groups came together again to listen to Dympna’s talk on mindfulness and meditation. I admit that I find it hard to switch off, and at home I definitely don’t take time to sit quietly and relax. However, Dympna’s advice on how to be mindful included tips on doing small bits throughout the day, which didn’t sound too daunting! I haven’t done it yet… but I will… I promise!

I went to the conference on Saturday hoping to pick up some tips, but the reality was so much more. I came away feeling determined to look after myself better, and that it is OK to put day-to-day chores aside and to rest and refresh ourselves. I’ve tried to summarise the content from each talk, but I’d really encourage you to spend some time watching the presentations. The videos from the conference are available here