It started off as simply counting steps, but lately there’s been an explosion of health-related tracking apps and devices that enable you to monitor everything from your heart rate and blood pressure to respiratory rates and even the quality of your sleep. As with all such revolutions, this development even has a collection of cool names, like “mHealth” and the “quantified self.”
Indeed, the next generation of smart phones is rumoured to be able to track a whole suite of ‘vital signs’ such as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and the like.
Some commentators are predicting that health tracking technology will lead to over 400 million purchases of ‘wearable tech’ in 2014 – wow! With so much technology at our disposal, we’ve never known so much about ourselves.
While it is handy to be able to find out just how long you need to run to burn off that piece of birthday cake, this new technology offers more than just being a toy for the ‘worried well’. For someone with MS, health tracking devices and apps can help you stay in control of your condition by monitoring it over time and allowing you to work with your healthcare team to ensure the best treatment and disease management.
Capturing and tracking information about what you experience, whether it be good or bad, puts you back in the driver’s seat. For instance, you could be able to figure out if your fatigue is largely due to your MS or whether poor sleep quality could be a contributing factor. It may be a long time between your visits to see your neurologist – and when he or she asks how your mood has been over the last 6 months, can you really remember that bad week you had 4 months ago? Providing them with comprehensive information can help inform key decisions about your care.
In addition to general lifestyle apps relevant for people with MS, such as sleep trackers, pedometers and mood monitors, there are now apps available specifically designed to help you keep tabs on your MS directly. Free apps, such as the Multiple Sclerosis Self-Care Manager (from the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America) allow you to record aspects including lab results, exacerbations, allergies, medication lists and side effects.
Keeping tabs on a condition like MS can, to some extent, mean constantly being reminded of it – which may not appeal to everyone. But being active in observing how it changes over time and working with your doctor or specialist to plan the best approach to treatment and management can reap rewards. Better information could drive positive changes in your diet, lifestyle or medication. Given the importance of effectively managing MS to delay progression of the disease, giving yourself and your care team the opportunity to spot things early can be beneficial.
Your neurologist is always tracking – it’s their job. Whether they’re looking at changes in MRI scans or the presence of lesions (scars that are indicative of ongoing inflammation and damage) tracking is essential to managing the progression of MS.
So how can you help your doctor keep track of everything? Adding in some self-reported tracking of relapses or symptom changes you experience, such as weakness, swallowing issues, or bowel and bladder changes, as well as mental changes such as forgetfulness, or difficulties with concentration, can be key points of discussion to help your neurologist best manage your disease. Ultimately, the more information you can provide for your healthcare team, the easier it could be for them to understand how MS is affecting YOU and your life – and what you can do together to improve matters. Tracking is now so much more than counting steps, and it’s getting more sophisticated all the time.