Spreading Awareness: Advocating for Client Needs

This week, in honor of MS Awareness Month, I spoke with a group of nursing students at Rutgers University in New Jersey regarding chronic illness and the role nurses play in patient advocacy and referral. This event highlights the importance of spreading awareness and educating those working directly with individuals affected by this disease.

While explaining the various factors associated with MS, we explored a variety of resources available to individuals. Nurses have a unique and valuable role in the medical team – they are often the first person a client sees in a medical team giving them the opportunity to hear and learn the ins and outs of an individual’s life. With this knowledge, nurses have the opportunity to discuss options and make referrals for clients.

It is vital that nurses view themselves as patient advocates and make referrals or speak to the medical team regarding any concerns they may have for the clients care. Some conversations are difficult to have with physicians; clients feel pressure during the short visit and do not get a chance to discuss their concerns. Often times, working closely with a nurse for some of the non-physician or non-medical related concerns can be helpful.

Hopefully the conversation with the nursing students set them up to become better patient advocates in their future roles as nurses!

Have you worked with a nurse for assistance with referrals to organizations or assistance programs? How was that experience for you?

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Identifying Community Resources for Individuals with MS

Working on the MSAA Helpline, we receive a wide array of calls asking for assistance locally within the community. Whether it is for in-home services, help with transportation, or housing assistance, the Helpline specialists work with the client to find a local group that can be of assistance. While it is challenging to find an MS-specific organization in the area, there are some local organizations designed to assist those living with a disability to keep them living independently in their homes.

One of the more common programs Helpline Specialists refer to is the Centers for Independent Living. These non-profit centers are consumer-controlled and located right in the community or surrounding area. These centers are staffed by individuals with disabilities and provide a variety of independent living services.

Fifty-one percent of staff, as well as the Board of Directors, within the Centers for Independent Living are individuals with disabilities. These centers provide four core services: information & referral, independent living skills training, individual and systems advocacy, and peer counseling.

While not MS-specific, the Centers for Independent Living understand the challenges faced when living with a disability and can make suggestions or provide direct programming to improve the quality of life of those living within their regions.

Search for your local Center for Independent Living and reach out to learn about the opportunities and assistance that may be available to you and your family. It can be challenging to reach out for help and support, especially if you are not quite sure of the need you may have. Start by talking with one of the peer counselors or support persons; in talking with them, you both may be able to clearly define some of the needs you may be having.

Have you reached out to community resources in the past? In which ways were they helpful to you?

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Multiple Sclerosis Around the World

Looking at MS around the world, the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation is an international organization offering support and advocacy for those with MS throughout different countries. Their initiatives include communicating information about MS to a global audience, especially where there is little MS support. They also work and coordinate with other MS organizations to advocate for research efforts and campaigns to help those living with MS, including World MS Day each year. They have several member organizations throughout different countries, and act as an international hub of MS information and support.

With MS affecting individuals throughout the world, it is imperative to have an international resource in place to turn to when information, support, and advocacy are needed. Through publications, newsletters, and weekly MS research updates, the MSIF offers those with MS increased awareness of the disease and its impacts. The group provides an opportunity for those countries without much MS awareness to receive additional support and resources.

As MS continues to be researched and investigated across the world in regards to its potential origin and treatments, the MSIF stands as a pioneering network to keep those in MS communities around the world apprise of new developments.

For more information about the MSIF, visit their website.

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Self-Advocacy for People with Multiple Sclerosis

Different thoughts may come to mind when you hear the word ‘advocacy.’ Some may not be familiar with the term or others may have a very vivid description of what the word means to them. Advocacy can be defined as active support, pleading or arguing in favor of something or for some type of cause. Individuals advocate for themselves in different ways, sometimes without the knowledge that they’re engaging in self-advocacy. When you visit your doctor and ask questions, this is a form of self-advocacy. You are supporting your healthcare by requesting more information to make the best informed decisions you can regarding your care. Some individuals have others assist them with this task at times; family members, friends and caregivers have been known to advocate for care when involved in the healthcare process. Sometimes it’s helpful to have another voice or set of ears advocating for your health needs when interacting with your medical team, and there can be different forms of this advocacy presented.

Here are some ways the MSAA can help you remain an advocate in your healthcare:

  • My MS Manager™:  a mobile-phone application to track disease activity, store         medical information, generate reports, and assist individuals with their treatment      plan
  • MSAA’s S.E.A.R.C.H.™ Program:  tools to help individuals with learning about the approved long-term treatments for MS, along with questions to discuss with the patient’s medical team
  • My MS Resource Locator: an MS-specific, online database offering targeted information and unique support services, including detailed guides

What are some ways you advocate for your care?

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