Background: Patients with MS are vulnerable to the effects of lack of physical activity caused by stay-at-home orders with the COVID-19 pandemic. The deconditioning may result in weakness, balance issues, increased risk for falls, worsening pain and spasticity. Social isolation has also increased risk for stress, depression and anxiety. Providers in the MS Clinic have been offering virtual wellness programs consisting of a variety of topics and exercise. In an effort to justify such programs in the future, this study served as a means to determine if such programs can result in improvement of patients quality of life.
Objectives: The purpose of this exploratory quantitative study was to determine if attending monthly sessions of wellness programs over a six-month period could have a positive effect on MS patients during the COVID-19 pandemic as evidenced by improvement on standard quality of life questionnaires.
Methods: The purposive, convenience sample consisted of 43 patients in the treatment group and 28 patients in the control group from the Comprehensive MS Center. The treatment group was asked to attend two monthly wellness programs for six months and to complete a demographic questionnaire along with the SF-36, Modified Fatigue Impact Scale (MFIS-5), and the MOS Pain Effects Scale (PES) questionnaires at baseline, month-3, and month-6. The control group consisted of patients who chose not to participate in the programs, but agreed to complete the same questionnaires at the same intervals.
Results: The data were analyzed using the Jonckheere-Terpstra test and a two-sample t-test. Forty-three patients completed the treatment arm and 28 were in the control group. Attending more programs was associated with a significant level of improvement compared to baseline in emotional well-being (p = 0.038) and PES (p = 0.011). Attending more programs was also associated with a significant level of improvement compared to baseline in mindfulness on the SF-36 pain scale (p = 0.0472) and exercise on the PES pain scale (p = 0.0115). No significant improvement was found on the other outcomes measured. Patients attending the programs consistently offered positive feedback that sessions were helping them with their MS symptoms, isolation, and social interaction.
Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that virtual wellness programs can be beneficial to patients living with MS in providing emotional support, physical exercise, and health promotion activities resulting in improved quality of life. The study also suggests that mindfulness and exercise programs may be beneficial in pain management.