Kiwi-made app offers help for MS sufferers

Dr Kirsten van Kessel, a clinical psychologist based at Auckland University of Technology, has helped create a new app for people who suffer fatigue symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Photo: NZ Herald / Supplied

Kiwi researchers have drawn on new brain science to create a smartphone app that could help thousands of people with multiple sclerosis.

One of the most common symptoms of MS - a chronic, unpredictable, incurable, neurological disease that leads to significant disability - is fatigue, and is experienced by at least two thirds of sufferers.

New research by Auckland University of Technology, and published in leading international journals, has provided evidence that an approach called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help manage fatigue.

"CBT is a psychological therapy that helps people manage their problems by changing some of the ways they think and behave," explained Dr Kirsten van Kessel, a clinical psychologist based at AUT.

"Evidence shows CBT has the potential to have a profound impact on the lives of those with MS fatigue, yet the therapy is not widely available."

That led Dr van Kessel and her colleagues to design an app, dubbed MS Energise, offering a CBT-based intervention.

"Our team includes people who have led internationally recognised research into the effectiveness of CBT for the management of MS fatigue, as well as people with experience of developing and evaluating internet based and mobile health interventions," she said.

"The team adapted face-to-face CBT into a digital, self-guided format."

After downloading it, users can learn more about fatigue and its impacts, complete interactive tasks to help themselves and track their progress through visual summaries.

"Feedback from field testing so far has been very positive, and participants have told us there is nothing else like MS Energise on offer.

"In New Zealand, there were an estimated 73 people per 100,000 with MS in 2006, indicating about 3273 New Zealanders with MS today - a significant number for a chronic, debilitating health condition that had no cure and limited management options.

Globally, 2.5 million people are affected by MS, with studies reporting that between 65 to 97% experienced significant levels of fatigue, affecting all aspects of their lives.

"Countries with high MS prevalence tend to have good internet access, high mobile phone penetration, and are relatively affluent," Dr van Kessel said.

"Large English-speaking countries fall in this region."

While there was little hard data on which to reliably predict the uptake rate of new apps like MS Energise, one recent study conducted by the AUT team found the large majority of Kiwi respondents with MS fatigue had a mobile device and access to the internet.

Having just hit the NZ iTunes App store, the team is now looking to roll it out in the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, Ireland and other English-speaking countries.

"By making the app available internationally, we hope many more people with MS fatigue will have access to help.


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