Around 50 people affected by multiple sclerosis (MS), including patients and doctors, gathered in the Crown Ballroom at the Days Hotel in Lloydminster on March 28 to hear a series of speakers discuss the progress of treatment and research of the disease.
“It’s grown fairly substantially,” said Johanna Green, Lakeland regional director of the MS Society of Canada. “Last year was our inaugural year, so I think like anything it takes some time to get some traction, but certainly I would say attendance is up this year from last.”
The second annual Lloydminster MS Symposium was a day-long conference, beginning at 9 a.m. and ending at 3:45 p.m. Speakers included members of the MS Society, the Prairie North Health Clinic and Primary Care Network, as well as researchers and a speech-language pathologist. A Tai Chi demonstration was also held.
“It speaks to the need and the urgency for us to ensure that our local support teams and health providers are informed about MS, so that when someone living with MS comes to their office locally they feel positioned to support them as best they can,” Green said. “So this plays an important part in furthering their own education.”
The symposium’s headline presenter was Wee Yong, an MS researcher from the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary. He says the gathered crowd was appreciative of the speakers throughout the day.
“I think it’s very good. It’s informing the MS clients about what’s ongoing in the world of multiple sclerosis, particularly from the research and treatment side,” Yong said.
“Also, telling them that there is ongoing research around the world, very active research in many different areas. So I think it’s my privilege to be here. I hope the audience will go away knowing that there is a lot of momentum and a lot of background activity to try to help the condition of MS.”
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Also speaking was Ken Makus, an MS neurologist from Edmonton. He has been travelling to smaller communities around Alberta for the last 15 years, stopping in Lloydminster on a few occasions. He says he finds it invigorating to discuss MS on a face-to-face level and bring these discussion to the people themselves.
“It’s a little bit like politics, its all at the ground level and it’s about figuring out what the local community needs,” he said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what happens in the legislature, it matters what’s happening at the local level. One of the messages I’m really going to be pushing is it’s not about bricks and mortar, it’s about patients and people.”
Makus says MS treatment has improved greatly over the past decade. He says medication has come away, and now researcher are learning about how physical exercise can help combat the disease as well. Makus also mentioned technological innovations, like hands-free devices, wearable electronics that strengthen leg use and even virtual reality rehabilitation where patients are placed in a harness on a moving platform.
“My parting remark to (people affected by MS) will be to hang in there, stay hopeful,” Yong said. “Because I think that hope is justified.”