1st May, 2002
ACROSS THE NATION, MS achievement centers are opening doors of opportunity for people with MS. In cities from Rochester to Los Angeles, those with MS are finding care, companionship, and most importantly, community, within the portals of these gathering places for the country's MS population.
Call them achievement centers or adult day enrichment centers. No matter the title or particular slant, their overarching mission is to help those with MS live life to the fullest while coping with this disease and its encumbrances. Participants, as well as their family and friends, are empowered to enhance the quality of their lives, pursue meaningful activities, and engage fully in society and family life.
A goal of empowerment
Officially opened June 6, 2001, the Comprehensive Wellness Program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) was created through the collaborative efforts of the UCLA Department of Neurology and the Southern California Chapter of The National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
"It's really about empowerment-being a tool or resource for people with MS to come and utilize, to set some goals they want to achieve, to be able to live more well with MS," said Stephanie Fisher, director of UCLA's program.
"Our mission," she said, "is to provide a client-centered, community-based program designed to enhance our clients' quality of life by improving their physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being." To that end, Elise Herlihy, a clinical nurse specialist with a background in neurology and rehabilitation, medically assesses every new member who comes to the center. She is also involved in the center's ongoing research.
"What we're trying to do," she said, "is to quantify the changes in our members' function and quality of life. And we're looking at 6month intervals, with the goal of decreasing the number of infections, exacerbations, and hospitalizations."
The center staff also looks to help reduce some of the medical complications people experience as a result of MS. Members benefit from working with a professional staff on a weekly basis. There are also advantages to working alongside other people who are going through similar kinds of problems and sharing not only their struggles, but the things that have worked for one another.
The center staff includes recreational, physical, and art therapists, as well as fitness and nutrition experts, and a speech pathologist.
"We look at how their MS is affecting them physically," said Ms. Herlihy. Services are tailored to the individual needs of each member.
A sense of community
Emotional wellness support groups allow members to get together and talk about some of the issues that they're facing regarding MS.
"We see what kinds of recreational and leisure activities people perhaps enjoyed in the past and, as a result of their MS, are no longer able to continue participating in," said Ms. Herlihy. "We then see if there are ways to maybe adapt the activity so that people can get back to doing some of [the things they enjoy]."
"The most important aspect of the center," assistant programs director
Wendy Sullivan of the MS Achievement Center in Rochester said, "is the
relationships people develop; and the chance to be out in with other people
and be valued. It's the sense of community. I think that's a better way
to phrase it."
© 2002, Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis