What do you know about stress?

Posted April 17th, 2015 by

This April, some people aren’t thinking about stress – the crazy snows of winter are just about gone, flowers are blooming and temperatures are rising. But with these positive changes comes a responsibility to recognize the importance of stress and how it affects people’s health. Federal Occupational Health (FOH) has deemed April National Stress Awareness Month, and together, everyone can help raise awareness for stress, its causes and how it can be managed.

The medical definition of stress is “a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous.”1 Stress can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term), and it causes a wide range of symptoms, ranging from the physical (chest pain, fatigue, muscle tremors) to the emotional (anxiety, restlessness, depression).2 And while acute stress is a natural feeling to experience, chronic stress has been linked to increased instances of health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Stress is experienced by people of all ages, genders and backgrounds – below is what the PatientsLikeMe community is saying about how stress affects them:

“Stress is beyond anything I have ever faced in my life. My tremors all completely out of control. I feel like it is getting too hard to handle. Could I have moved a stage up because of all the stress?”
-Parkinson’s member

“Stress is definitely a killer for me! It multiplies my [fibromyalgia] symptoms by many times and I am extremely stress sensitive. I was a victim of prolonged stress (I have been under a lot of pressure (stress) for over 20 years) and I am convinced that’s why I developed [fibromyalgia].”
-Fibromyalgia member

“I have been dealing with so much stress and anxiety that I have been sick with severe stomach pain, I can’t eat, don’t want nothing to drink. I am just so worn out.”
-Mental health member

This April, visit FOH’s website to learn more about getting involved in raising stress awareness. And don’t forget to share your experiences with stress on social media via the #stressawareness hashtag.

And if you’re living with stress and looking to connect with others who know what you’re going through, join PatientsLikeMe and add your thoughts to the discussions on stress.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word for National Stress Awareness Month.


1 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003211.htm

2 http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987


PatientsLikeMe study monitors walking activity in people with MS

Posted April 15th, 2015 by

          

Cambridge, MA, April 15, 2015—PatientsLikeMe today announced results of a novel study conducted with Biogen that showed how people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) can use wearable activity tracking devices to collect and share their mobility data, which could potentially provide relevant information to their clinicians and to other MS patients. These data are being presented at the 67th American Academy of Neurology’s (AAN) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC April 18-25.

“MS impairs the ability to walk for many people with MS, yet we only assess walking ability in the limited time a patient is in the doctor’s office,” said Richard Rudick, MD, vice president, Value Based Medicine, Biogen. “Consumer devices can measure number of steps, distance walked, and sleep quality on a continuous basis in a person’s home environment. These data could provide potentially important information to supplement office visit exams.”

The study was designed to assess the feasibility of using a consumer wearable device to monitor activity among people with MS in a real-world setting. In it, 248 PatientsLikeMe members were provided with Fitbit One™ activity trackers. Of those who received them, 213 (82%) activated the device with the Fitbit website and authorized PatientsLikeMe to access their data. Two-hundred and three of those who authorized sharing of the data synchronized the device with the service and produced tracking data. Participants synced an average 18.21 days of data over the 21-day study (87% adherence).

Paul Wicks, PhD, Vice President of Innovation at PatientsLikeMe, said that advances in wearable health technology have the potential to shed light on disease characteristics. “PatientsLikeMe is in a unique position to combine self-reported data with objective measurement and help patients and researchers learn more to impact self discovery and research.”

The three-week study had a lasting impact on its participants, who together took a total of 15 million steps and walked 6,820 miles, the distance from Boston to Beijing. “I got positive reinforcement to do more each day, and that really encouraged me,” said Annette Smiling, a PatientsLikeMe member and study participant who had never used a wearable activity tracker before. “The Fitbit also allowed me to track what I was eating and how I was sleeping. I made more positive choices as a result.”

After the study period, participants were surveyed to learn more about their study experiences and about their attitudes toward technology and physical activity tracking. Of the 191 participants who responded to the post-study survey, 88 percent reported the device was easy to use and incorporate into their daily routine; 83 percent agreed that they would continue to use the device after the study; and 68 percent believed that the device would be useful to them in managing their MS. Additional survey data is available at http://news.patientslikeme.com.

With more than 38,000 members, PatientsLikeMe’s MS community is the largest and most active MS research community online.

Study Design Methodology
A total of 248 PatientsLikeMe members living with MS were recruited to participate in a study deploying Fitbit One™ activity trackers. Information on patient demographics and level of self-reported functional disability were captured from the participants’ PatientsLikeMe profiles. Devices were mailed to participants with instructions on activation and authorization of data sharing between the manufacturer and PatientsLikeMe. As part of PatientsLikeMe’s member engagement framework, a live concierge service was available to participants to provide answers to technical and other questions. The study also took full advantage of the PatientsLikeMe platform and health tracking tools to engage participants with their data, and with each other. Study participants were able to track their physical activity levels on the PatientsLikeMe website and connect with each other in the MS discussion forum to talk about changing symptoms, benefits and issues. Data were collected for a period of three weeks, and patients were asked to complete a survey to provide feedback on their experiences with the device.

About PatientsLikeMe
PatientsLikeMe® (www.patientslikeme.com) is a patient network that improves lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers, and nonprofits develop more effective products, services and care. With more than 325,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 60 peer-reviewed research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.

Contact
Margot Carlson Delogne
(781) 492-1039
mcdelogne@patientslikeme.com


Bruce Cooper and Ed Godber talk about the AstraZeneca/PatientsLikeMe partnership

Posted April 13th, 2015 by

AstraZeneca and PatientsLikeMe announced today that they’re working together to use patient-reported data to shape future medicines and help improve patient outcomes. While it focuses on an initial set of four therapeutic areas (lupus, respiratory diseases, oncology and diabetes) the partnership signals a significant step forward for patients worldwide. Bruce Cooper, AstraZeneca’s Senior Vice President, Global Medical Affairs and Ed Godber, PatientsLikeMe’s Executive Vice President of Life Sciences Ventures explain why.

What is this partnership designed to do?

Bruce Cooper: We’re focused more than ever on having patient-defined value drive our scientific developments. To do so, we need to understand more about what patients are experiencing day-to-day. Our partnership with PatientsLikeMe allows us to tap into a patient network with more than 325,000 members. Every minute of every day, they are using the website to track their condition and give others like them information and support. They’re also contributing data for research. Now, their shared experiences will become real world evidence that accelerates AstraZeneca’s R&D capability and delivers patient-centric medicines.

Ed Godber: Ultimately, we want to help AstraZeneca partner with patients so that patients shape the medicines of the future, those medicines lead to better outcomes, and patients can live the lives they want. It’s exciting to see how Briggs Morrison (Executive Vice President, Global Medicines Development, AstraZeneca) and his team have truly committed themselves to transforming the discovery and development process by focusing on what patients experience, and need.

How does this collaboration actually help patients?

Bruce Cooper: We have significant potential to accelerate an upgrade to the system by making the patient voice part of the DNA of life science processes, helping to generate evidence to support our R&D and drive our science. We want to better understand what is important to patients about all aspects of their condition and treatment, and then shape the profile of the medicines we discover and develop. And we want to empower patients to thrive to the fullest degree from this upgrade in how data is generated and shared.

Ed Godber: We’re really aligned on that point. PatientsLikeMe was founded more than ten years ago with a mission to put patients first, and to make their voice central to medical advances. We did that by enabling patients to learn from the experience of thousands of others like them, sharing important and varied information about their health in a way that is compatible with healthcare and research. We’ve already seen that this kind of sharing can improve patient outcomes and transform healthcare. So it’s important that we take “patientomics” to the next level. With AstraZeneca, we not only expand the network and data, but also develop the science and processes by which healthcare and discovery can be increasingly responsive to patient needs.

What’s the first thing you’ll focus on as you begin to work together?

Ed Godber: We have been able to quickly get into a rhythm of sharing innovation and best practice around how to integrate the patient voice into AstraZeneca’s R&D. From here, in the short term, we’ll work together to create a “how to” guide to incorporate patient centricity into the design and execution of our studies. The agreement is for five years, so we’ll continue to define and evolve what we focus on.

Bruce Cooper: I’m pleased to say too that we have begun to collaborate with clinical operations to integrate patient insights into trial design and execution. We also expect our medical strategies to be enhanced across our Therapy Areas. There are a number of areas that can benefit from the data that PatientsLikeMe generates, and I’m looking forward to exploring even more.

What does the future look like with this partnership in place?

Bruce Cooper: I see a world where patients are even more engaged in research, because they have greater access to it, and can shape the way we conduct research with them. I also see patients helping to shape the healthcare environment as a whole by bringing what’s important to them onto the government’s healthcare agenda, and even shaping the way healthcare is delivered in clinical practice in disease communities.

Ed Godber: We believe this can have a significant impact on the speed at which patients get the full value out of new and effective medicines in the real world, using all of the useful data about a patient’s experience at the right times in disease research, drug development, regulation, access and care.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


PatientsLikeMe and AstraZeneca announce global research collaboration

Posted April 13th, 2015 by

          

Five-year agreement focused on improving health outcomes for patients across main therapy areas

CAMBRIDGE, MA, April 13, 2015—In a major step forward to make patient-centric evidence a cornerstone of scientific discovery and development, PatientsLikeMe and AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) have signed a five-year agreement to provide access to PatientsLikeMe’s global network in support of AstraZeneca’s patient-driven research initiatives.

AstraZeneca will use patient-reported data from PatientsLikeMe to shape future medicine development and help improve outcomes across its main therapeutic areas, with an initial focus on respiratory disease, lupus, diabetes and oncology.

“Understanding what patients are experiencing every day and how they define the value of their treatments are fundamental to our ability to push the boundaries of science in developing the next-generation of medicines,” said Briggs Morrison, EVP Global Medicines Development, AstraZeneca. “Our partnership with PatientsLikeMe will help us to harness the important perspectives of patients through their advanced technology and real-world, real-time evidence to support our research and development programs.”

The agreement is the latest to embrace PatientsLikeMe’s global network, which delivers a unique depth and breadth of data about the patient. Ed Godber, Executive Vice President of Life Sciences Ventures, said the wide-ranging collaboration with AstraZeneca also marks a significant step in realizing PatientsLikeMe’s mission to make patients true partners in science.

“It’s rare to find a partner so committed to listening to and integrating the patient voice into the heart of its scientific development and operations. We’re excited to work together to transform the discovery and healthcare model and develop products and services tailored to what patients experience and truly need,” Godber said.

About PatientsLikeMe
PatientsLikeMe® (www.patientslikeme.com) is a patient network that improves lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers, and nonprofits develop more effective products, services and care. With more than 325,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 60 peer-reviewed research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.

About AstraZeneca
AstraZeneca is a global, innovation-driven biopharmaceutical business that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialisation of prescription medicines, primarily for the treatment of cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory, inflammation, autoimmune, oncology, infection and neuroscience diseases. AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries and its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide. For more information please visit: astrazeneca.com.

Contact
Margot Carlson Delogne
(781) 492-1039
mcdelogne@patientslikeme.com


Recognizing the signs of IBS

Posted April 10th, 2015 by

Did you know that between 25 and 45 million people in the United States have IBS, but that many do not seek medical care for their symptoms?1 Are you one of them? Improved knowledge about IBS could lead to better treatments and care, and that’s why the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) has designated April as IBS Awareness Month. Watch the IFFGD’s public service announcement about IBS below:

There are many ways to get involved in spreading awareness for IBS:

Over 4,300 PatientsLikeMe members are living with IBS – share your story with the community and help others live better, together.

 

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word for IBS.


1 http://www.aboutibs.org/site/what-is-ibs/facts/


Seeing [MS]: The invisible symptoms – balance

Posted April 8th, 2015 by

Describing her loss of stability and balance is difficult for Carol Cooke. One moment, she might be walking, and the next, she’ll fall to the ground. As she says, “I just want to get up and keep going,” but that’s not possible due to the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis (MS). Listen to Carol speak about her MS below:

You are now seeing balance

Photographed by Andreas Smetana
Inspired by Carol Cooke’s invisible symptoms

To help others understand this, she worked with photographer Andreas Smetana to portray her MS symptom in the picture above. Her video and picture are part of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Australia’s (MSA) Seeing [MS] campaign, which is all about recognizing the invisible symptoms of MS and raising awareness for the neurological condition. Check out the previous pictures and stay tuned for more Seeing [MS] posts.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word for MS.


New partner, Schwartz Center, calls for nominations: National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year

Posted April 6th, 2015 by

Remember a time when you were in the hospital or doctor’s office, feeling nervous and anxious about a shot, treatment or diagnosis? And remember there was someone who made you feel safe, answered all your questions, or did something small that had a big impact?

It’s like what Ken Schwartz said during his battle with lung cancer, “These acts of kindness – the simple human touch from my caregivers – have made the unbearable bearable.” Those experiences inspired Ken to create an outline for an organization to promote compassionate care so that patients and their caregivers can relate to one other in a way that provides hope to the patient, support to caregivers and sustenance to the healing process. And just days before his death in 1995, he founded the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare.

For 16 of the last 20 years the Schwartz Center has been honoring extraordinary professional caregivers and teams who embody characteristics of compassionate care, like listening carefully, showing empathy, instilling hope and more. We’re proud to be partnered with them in their continued efforts. And you can be a part of it, too.

The Schwartz Center is calling for nominations for its National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year (NCCY) award, and you have until May 1 to submit your nomination.

Award-winning author Atul Gawande will present the award at the Kenneth B. Schwartz Compassionate Healthcare Dinner in November, which coincides with the Schwartz Center’s 20thanniversary. His work focuses on the difficult choices caregivers, patients and families face every day and the issues that can make it hard to provide high-quality, cost-effective and compassionate healthcare.

Do something special
If you have special healthcare providers in your life, honor them for their excellence by nominating them for National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year. It’s a simple but powerful way to show your appreciation for a job well (and compassionately) done.

“Receiving the Schwartz Center award … affirmed that rewarding feeling at the end of an encounter with a patient, when you see hope and relief in their eyes – it’s priceless,”  said Thea James, MD, last year’s Schwartz Center Compassionate Caregiver Award recipient.

More about the partnership
Over the last 20 years, the Schwartz Center focused on providing compassionate care, while over the last 10 years, we’ve brought the patient voice and the patient story to the life sciences community. We’re excited about the new alliance, which will help us better understand the patient’s perception of compassionate care. We can strengthen the relationship between patients and their healthcare providers, which leads to better health outcomes, lower costs and greater patient satisfaction.

Working together, we’ll survey our members to gather their feedback on a proposed Schwartz Center Compassionate Care Scale™, designed to let healthcare organizations measure and reward the compassionate care that doctors, nurses and other caregivers provide to patients and families. Jointly, we’ll create content to teach patients what compassionate care really is and how to ask for it.

Julie Rosen, executive director of the Schwartz Center, commented on the part PatientsLikeMe will play in evaluating compassionate care:

“As in other areas of healthcare, we believe measurement can play an important role in improving patients’ care experiences, and we are thrilled to have a collaborator that can help us ensure that we’re measuring what is most important to patients in language they can understand.”

Share this post on Twitter and nominate your candidate for Caregiver of the Year.


You can make a difference in April

Posted April 3rd, 2015 by

Eight years ago this April, the PatientsLikeMe Parkinson’s disease (PD) community launched, and now, more than 9,000 people are sharing about what it’s like to live with PD. What better way to recognize this awesome community than to participate in Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month?

Listen to Leslie Chambers, the president and CEO of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association (APDA), explain the facts about PD in the video below:

As she says, 60,000 people worldwide will be diagnosed with PD in 2015 – that averages out to 164 people every day, or one person every nine minutes.

This April, it’s not just about the 9,000+ PatientsLikeMe members living with PD, or the 60,000 people who will be diagnosed in 2015 – it’s about everyone who is living and has ever lived with PD, and all their family, friends and colleagues who have been affected.

You can make a difference. The APDA is running a “30 days, 30 ways” campaign all month long, so be sure to check their website daily to learn how to get involved. The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation is also participating in raising awareness, and they’ve created a great toolkit to get you started. And don’t forget to share through the #PDawareness or #Parkinsons hashtags.

If you’ve been diagnosed with PD, join 9,000 others in sharing to live better, together.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word for Parkinson’s disease.


Taking control: from PatientsLikeMe member Letitia and our friends at the Partnership to Improve Patient Care

Posted April 1st, 2015 by

Many of you have already met Letitia. She’s part of the PatientsLikeMe epilepsy community, and from her Patient Voice video to twitter (@Pulchritude81), she continues to be a rockstar when it comes to sharing her experiences and advocating for patient centered research. Her latest efforts focused on patient empowerment where she headlined a webinar with our friends at the Partnership to Improve Patient Care (PIPC). She followed that up with a post on PIPC’s blog and we wanted share what she had to say. Check it out below.

“My name is Letitia Browne-James, and I have had epilepsy all my life. Until I started to empower myself about my own care I was unsure that I would ever be cured. After my illness continued to get worse and the seizures more violent while I was trying to live life, I decided to look online for possible solutions because my experience with previous doctors continued to be frustrating and led to dead ends.. Finally, after a few months of research , I was equipped to ask the right questions, to demand better treatment, and even undergo a surgery that I originally didn’t even know existed.

At the age of 10, I was formally diagnosed with epilepsy, and I spent my life, through school and at work, suffering from seizures that continued to get worse. Years went by with multiple doctors and consults both nationally and internationally, leaving me frustrated and confused because the seizures were no longer appearing on scans and they continued to get more violent and frequent.

Eventually, I began doing my own research about my medical care and joined an online resource for patients called PatientsLikeMe. I learned that there were other options available, such as a 72 hour EEG that could detect what type of seizures I was having. My involvement with PatientsLikeMe eventually led me to find out about an epileptologist – a doctor specializing in epileptic care. My epileptologist performed tests that led him to accurately diagnose the type of seizures I was having. From there, I learned that I was a candidate for epilepsysurgery that I hadn’t heard about since I was about 10-years-old. . Prior to surgery, I asked many questions and went through a series of tests to make sure that surgery was the right procedure for me. And since my surgery in August 2012, I have been seizure free and I feel better than ever.

My experience with the medical care system and my efforts to be an empowered patient taught me a few things. Empowerment includes continuous collaboration and effort, not only from a medical team, but from us, the patients. If you are not happy with the care you are receiving or you feel like something is not right at any point in the process, it is important to empower yourself to research your treatment options, talk to other patients with the same condition to get ideas of what has worked for them as well as social spport, and speak out when you questions about the care being provided to you. The truth is, each patient is different, and every medical team should work for the individual person – not for the diagnosis. Solutions that work for one subset of patients do not necessarily work for all patients; the best treatment for the average patient is not necessarily the best for you.

Throughout my journey to find a solution for epilepsy, I developed my own passion – helping patients know that they do have a voice when it comes to medical decisions. I serve as a patient research advisor with 13 other patients for PatientsLikeMe. This expereince has allowed me to continue my passion in an environment that prioritizes patient-centeredness and patient empowerment. And the results speak for themselves. When patients are engaged in the decision-making process regarding their care, they experience better health outcomes and lower costs, while also developing trust in their providers.

Shared decision-making in the medical process cannot be ignored as the healthcare industry is making decisions on what treatments we should be able to access. Patients have to understand their options and make an active choice in their care to get the most out of their treatment. Patient preferences should matter to our healthcare team. And if it doesn’t, we should be empowered to find a different health care provider. As I’ve often said when speaking about patient empowerment: your doctor may be the expert in medicine, but only you are the expert on you.”

Visit the PIPC’s website to learn more about patient-centeredness and comparitive effectiveness research.


“ALS is not for sissies.” – PatientsLikeMe member SuperScout shares about her journey with ALS

Posted March 30th, 2015 by

That’s what SuperScout likes to tell people when explaining her personal motto. She was diagnosed in 2009, and in a recent interview, she explained how she takes her life one day, and sometimes one hour, at a time. In her interview, she broke down what goes on during a typical visit to her ALS clinic, and shared how technology has been simultaneously frustrating and extremely helpful. Learn about her journey below.

When did you first experience symptoms of ALS?

In August 2008, I was attending a Girl Scout event. As we recited the Promise, I noticed my fingers weren’t making the sign correctly. Over the next few months, I began to lose the fine motor skills in my right hand. Writing was hard, & I started using my left hand for most things. I thought I had some form of carpal tunnel. I had NO pain, so I wasn’t concerned. In December 2008, I went to my family doctor for my annual check-up. I told him my problems & he sent me for an electroencephalogram (EEG). That began the series of tests that eventually led to my diagnosis in April 2009.

How did you feel after being officially diagnosed? And what was the first thing that went through your mind?

I don’t think I will ever forget that day. I suspected something unusual was going to happen because the technician at my second EEG commented that the neurologist must find my case interesting because normally, it’s difficult to get an appointment with him. He entered the exam room, sat down, and said, “I have bad news for you. You have Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” I was stunned, and asked if it would affect my longevity. He said yes, but couldn’t tell me how much. He asked if I had any questions, but I didn’t because I didn’t know much about it. Sure, I had heard of it, but didn’t know what it would do to me. I went home, and looked on the Internet for information on ALS. It was scary. The first thing through my mind was how it would change my life and that of my family. I was used to doing for others, now they would need to do for me.

You tell people “ALS is not for sissies.” Can you elaborate on that?

A sissy is defined as someone who is timid or cowardly. No one who has ALS can fit that definition. We all know it will shorten our life, and rob us of many functions we once took for granted. I really like the PSA Angela Lansbury did for ALS in 2008. She’s sitting on a stool, and a gun is fired. As the bullet races toward her, she describes what ALS does to the body, and ends by saying “There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” She asks for donations for the ALS Association (ALSA) stating that with this help those with ALS can do this: She rises and avoids the oncoming bullet. We all see the bullet, yet can’t do anything to stop it. Unlike other serious diseases, there are NO options for a treatment that will cure this disease that’s been described as horrific. However, every day we People with ALS (PALS) are fighting the daily battle to stay positive. Sometimes, it’s easy, sometimes, it’s hard. You take it one day at a time, or even just one hour at a time. That makes us BRAVE, and not sissies.

Take us through a typical visit to your ALS clinic – what’s the experience like?

Every 3 months, I visit the ALS clinic at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Once my weight is checked, I’m taken to an exam room, then the team of specialists each stop in to see me. In addition to the neurologist, I see a respiratory therapist, nurse, ALS representative, MDA representative, speech therapist, dietician, occupational therapist, physical therapist, social worker, & a pastoral care minister. They each make recommendations to help me have the best quality of life with ALS as possible. My family members are asked if they have any needs. Each room has a sign – “Have we answered all your questions?” About 1 week after my visit, I receive in the mail a summary of my visit with their recommendations. Prior to the visit, I also complete a Quality of Life survey, similar to the one on this website. Although lengthy (around 3 1/2 hours), I enjoy my visits because each person makes me feel important and they truly care about me.

How has technology helped you with your communication?

When I began using my Eyegaze Edge, I found it frustrating, but gradually got better at not moving my head and was able to be successful. Now, it is my sole means of communication. Before my caregiver arrives in the morning, I type out for her what I want for my meals, what channels I want to watch on TV, and any special information. My son says I sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher when I talk, so using my device is a necessity if I want to communicate. We even take it to Sunday School, so I can participate in our class discussions. My most favorite thing to do is connect to the internet. Sending emails is easy, and I go on Facebook, play games, read, Skype, shop, and do whatever I’m in the mood for. Once, when the camera broke, I was without it for a few days and I really missed it. I wound up grunting “Yes” or “No” to questions which was frustrating. Using technology to connect to others makes me feel I still have a purpose in life, and I have something worthwhile to contribute.

Finally, what’s the most positive surprise you’ve learned while living with ALS?

The most positive surprise I’ve learned while living with ALS is that I have more people thinking about me, and supporting me with their prayers, than I expected. I learned this during the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I began to see videos posted on my Facebook timeline of people participating in the Challenge in my honor. It warmed my heart to see them. They featured friends, former work colleagues, and some fellow Girl Scout volunteers. Many said how I’ve inspired them with my smile. It was never my intention to be an inspiration, but just to cope with ALS the best way I knew, with my faith in God and a sense of humor. Due to the Ice Bucket Challenge, the world now knew more about ALS, and money will be used to find a treatment and cure for ALS. I feel hopeful for the first time since my diagnosis.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word for ALS.


Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Deb

Posted March 27th, 2015 by

You’ve been introduced to five members of the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors so far: Karla, Emilie, Becky, Lisa and Dana.

This month, meet Deb, a freelance medical writer who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2009. Learn about her journey and what being a part of the Team of Advisors means to her. 

About Deb (aka ruby1357):
Deb has spent most of her professional life as a freelance medical writer and editor. Over the years, she has worked with many health and medical organizations. Currently she works in cardiac surgery research for a major hospital system in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Deb’s primary professional interest has always been patient education. She believes that “knowledge is power”―that clear and accurate information can ease patients’ fear and uncertainty when faced with a serious diagnosis, that anyone is capable of understanding even the most complex research if it is presented appropriately, and that information doesn’t have to be dumbed down for patients to understand it.

Deb was diagnosed with MS in 2009. Her passion is dressage, and she credits her horse, Gwen, and riding as the most important and effective “treatments” for her MS symptoms.

Deb on patient centeredness:
“I feel fortunate that, because of my work, I have been able to see clinical research from the perspective of both the patient and the researcher. I have worked with and for many organizations, researchers, and physicians over the course of my career, and I have found that, ironically, the patients themselves are often invisible in the research process. If patients are thought of as “cases” rather than as real people, and if patients don’t understand what is being done and why, then the research effort has lost what should be its central purpose.

The story of how I came to be diagnosed with MS illustrates some important points that I feel are related to patient centeredness and the work of PatientsLikeMe’s Team of Advisors.

On opening day of show season in 2009, I found for some reason that I couldn’t ride very well. Everything was off, and my body felt very strange. Embarrassingly, that day I received the lowest scores of my riding career! Days later, I found myself in the office of a neurologist, who off-handedly ran down a laundry list of differential diagnoses, ranging from a pinched nerve or Lyme disease (the latter is common among horse people) to Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis. After weeks of anxiety and a multitude of tests, the same doctor casually informed me over the phone that “it looks like you have MS.”

At age 52, I couldn’t believe my ears, especially since my ex-husband had been diagnosed with MS many years before, very early in the course of our marriage. Back then, there wasn’t an MRI machine around every corner. It took 5 years after his first attack for him to be diagnosed. At that time, I was working for a major medical specialty organization, so I went to the library (no one had computers yet) and found everything I could about MS. Then we both started reading. At a time when the official slogan of the MS Society was “MS: The Crippler of Young Adults,” we learned that having MS didn’t mean you would necessarily end up in a wheelchair. The information we gathered reassured us. He went on to lead a totally normal life during the 10 years of our marriage.

I see these two incidents as related in very important ways. Having accurate information about MS kept my ex-husband and me from fear and despair. And the casual manner of the neurologist who gave me the MS diagnosis served as a perfect example of how NOT to interact with patients. Both incidents relate to how important it is for both researchers (who publish their results, which eventually may make it into patient information materials) and clinicians (who should take into account how it feels to be on the other end of the conversation) to keep the “end user”―the patient―at the forefront of everything they do.”

Deb on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“Being a part of the ToA has been a profoundly rewarding experience. I have made friends that I know I will keep once our terms are over. Like my colleagues on the ToA, I am deeply grateful to have the opportunity to be heard, without condescension, as a person experiencing a disease and its effects, and to have an opportunity to have a say in how research is conducted.

PatientsLikeMe has as its mission nothing less than changing how research is conducted, and I am excited and honored to be even a small part of that. There is a long-standing divide between the researchers who conduct clinical trials and the practitioners who provide health care to patients. Too often, patients are lost in the middle. The research/clinical divide has long needed a third party to bridge the gap. That third party is the patients themselves. By starting at this common ground—the patients whose lives are affected by both research and clinical practice—PatientsLikeMe is making important strides in bringing together these traditionally divided camps for a unified purpose: to better the health and quality of life of real people.”

Deb on MS research:
“Like my fellow Advisors and PatientsLikeMe itself, I believe that much can be learned from patients’ experiences, and this information should be used to design research studies. My own experience serves as an example of this.

In the weeks and months after my initial diagnosis, I found that movement was vitally important. MS is, after all, a movement disorder. My fellow horsewomen rallied to my side, lending me their quiet mounts to ride until my symptoms abated and I could safely ride my own high-spirited (to put it politely!) mare again. Those women―and the horses themselves―kept me moving.

When my current neurologist first met me, she told me that, having looked at my MRIs before our visit, she was amazed at how well I was doing. Although I don’t have scientific evidence for it, my belief is that my riding has kept the disease from progressing further than it has.

This is an example of how patients’ experiences can inform research. To date there are maybe a dozen studies on the effects of sustained physical exercise on MS disease progression. There need to be more clinical trials in this area, as well as in other chronic conditions, that are based on patients’ actual experiences. Those experiences―though anecdotal―are a treasure trove of possible study questions for clinical research.”

More about the 2014 Team of Advisors
They’re a group of 14 PatientsLikeMe members who will give feedback on research initiatives and create new standards that will help all researchers understand how to better engage with patients like them. They’ve already met one another in person, and over the next 12 months, will give feedback to our own PatientsLikeMe Research Team. They’ll also be working together to develop and publish a guide that outlines standards for how researchers can meaningfully engage with patients throughout the entire research process.

So where did we find our 2014 Team? We posted an open call for applications in the forums, and were blown away by the response! The Team includes veterans, nurses, social workers, academics and advocates; all living with different conditions.

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“Focus on making small but meaningful changes” – an interview with Amy Campbell

Posted March 25th, 2015 by

Amy Campbell is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Good Measures, a company that combines the expertise of dietitians with state-of-the-art technology to help people improve their eating and exercise habits. Before joining Good Measures, Amy worked for almost 20 years at Joslin Diabetes Center, an internationally recognized diabetes treatment, research and education institution.

Amy, you have an impressive background – former nutritionist at Joslin Diabetes Center and co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, just for starters. As a certified diabetes educator, you’re aware of the media buzz around the new cholesterol guidelines. What does this mean for people with type 2 diabetes – and those at risk for it?

Cholesterol guidelines have always been somewhat confusing. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, an expert panel that provides recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, has done their homework and really examined the evidence around dietary cholesterol. The good news is that, for the first time, the committee is really downplaying the role of dietary cholesterol. In other words, for most of the population, eating foods that contain cholesterol has little if any effect on blood cholesterol levels. This is great news!

Whether or not eating eggs affects our cholesterol levels is awfully fuzzy for many people. As both a dietitian and a health professional advisor for the Egg Nutrition Center, this probably comes up a lot. What’s the latest wisdom?

For many years, health professionals, including doctors and dietitians, advised their patients to limit or even avoid eggs due to their cholesterol content. But a number of important studies have shown that dietary cholesterol (cholesterol found in food) has little effect on blood cholesterol levels. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee have dropped their recommendation that Americans limit their intake of cholesterol from foods, such as eggs and shrimp.

The data is a little less clear in terms of how dietary cholesterol might affect people who have type 2. But again, there’s no need to cut eggs out of a diabetes eating plan. In fact, if anything, eggs are a great addition because they are carbohydrate-free, rich in protein and low in saturated fat. Eggs provide many other important nutrients, as well, such as iron and vitamin D. Plus, they’re budget-friendly nutrients, as well.

Any specific suggestions for foods to eat or avoid if you want to reduce the level of “bad” (or lousy or LDL) cholesterol?

Although there’s some controversy surrounding saturated fat and how “evil” it really is, studies do show that this type of fat, found in red meat, cheese, whole milk and butter, for example, can raise LDL cholesterol levels. However, there are foods that can lower LDL cholesterol. These include foods high in soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, oat bran, beans, apples and pears. And foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, tuna, sardines, walnuts and flax seed can lower LDL levels as well.

Type 2 diabetes seems to be one of those conditions that’s closely related to lifestyle. Along with tips on nutrition, what else do your readers want in helping to manage their diabetes?

I’ve found that people who have type 2 diabetes want simple but straightforward suggestions on what they can do to live a healthy life with diabetes. Making changes to one’s eating plan can be difficult (we form our eating habits early on!), so practical pointers around food shopping, making nutritious meals and controlling portions are always helpful.

In addition, because getting and staying physically active is so important for people with diabetes, guidelines on how to fit activity into one’s daily life (like walking on your lunch break, for example, or using a resistance band while watching TV) are invaluable. Dealing with a chronic condition day in and day out can be stressful. Finding ways to reduce stress and to take time to relax is important. Finally, information is power. I encourage people who have diabetes to check their blood sugar levels – if not every day, at least a few times per week – to get a better understanding of how their food, activity and medications affect their diabetes control.

What about sleep? Have patients indicated that the condition seems to be associated with insomnia or sleep apnea?

Sleep is a big issue when it comes to diabetes. First, poorly controlled diabetes can keep a person from getting a good night’s sleep, especially if they’re getting up frequently to use the bathroom or get something to drink. Second, having type 2 diabetes increases the risk for sleep apnea, a serious condition whereby a person stops breathing for short periods of time while sleeping. And third, complications from diabetes, such as neuropathy, can also prevent a person from getting restful sleep.

Restless leg syndrome is another condition that interferes with sleep, and this condition is more common in people who have diabetes than in people who don’t. A lack of sleep can increase the risk of heart disease, obesity and even type 2 diabetes. Sleep deprivation can also do a number on your immune system, meaning that you’re more likely to get sick. Sleep experts recommend aiming for about 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.

So, if you could come up with three top bits of advice for people who live with – or want to avoid – type 2 diabetes, what would they be?

Here’s my advice: First, focus on making small but meaningful changes to your eating plan (if you need to!). You don’t need to cut out carbs or go on some stringent diet. But aim to eat plenty of “whole” foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein foods. Limit processed and fast food as much as possible.

Second, be active. If going to the gym isn’t for you, no worries. Go walking. Climb stairs. March in place when you watch television or talk on the phone. Physical activity is so important to help with blood sugar control. And third, take care of yourself. This means getting enough (but not too much) sleep, managing stress and making sure you have support from family, friends, co-workers or even an online community.

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Are you at risk for diabetes? Take the test

Posted March 24th, 2015 by

Listen up: if you’re living in the United States, there’s about a 1 in 3 chance you’ll develop diabetes over the course of your lifetime. But there are many ways you can lower your risk, which is why the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has recognized March 24 as Diabetes ALERT! Day. Today is about raising awareness for not only those living with diabetes, but those who can still make lifestyle changes to avoid developing it.

Diabetes is one of the most common health conditions in the United States – in 2012, over 29 million Americans (almost 10 percent of the U.S. population) had some form of diabetes (learn about types of diabetes here).1 It’s also estimated that in 2010, 86 million citizens aged 20 or older had prediabetes, which if left untreated, is likely to develop into type 2 diabetes in less than 10 years. Check out the infographic below for a quick snapshot of diabetes in the U.S., courtesy of the ADA and CDC.

Today, take the ADA’s type 2 diabetes risk test and share it with your friends, family and colleagues. It only takes a few minutes to answer the multiple-choice questions – you never know what you or someone else might discover from the results. And don’t forget to highlight your participation on social media through the #DiabetesAlert hashtag.

Many PatientsLikeMe members are living with diabetes – in fact, over 16,000 with type 2 and over 2,000 with type 1. If you’ve been diagnosed, join and share your experiences with the community.

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1 http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/


“I am not alone in this” – PatientsLikeMe member Rikwood55 shares his journey with lung cancer

Posted March 23rd, 2015 by

New member (and New Zealander) Rikwood55 was diagnosed at age 58 with non-small cell lung carcinoma (stage 4), and he said he joined PatientsLikeMe in the hope of connecting with people on the same or similar lung cancer immunotherapy treatments. Rick took part in a clinical trial, and is now tolerating the immunotherapy treatment well. His scans are looking good, and he sums it up this way:

“Five rounds of Carboplatin Chemo was hard going, as it is for everyone. Now more stability has returned and with it, hope for the future.”

Read Rick’s interview below and share your own experiences.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, Rick.

I am Rick, and I was diagnosed at age 58 with NSCLC stage 4 metastasis. I am a New Zealand-born resident currently receiving immunotherapy treatment in a clinical trial every 3 weeks at Auckland Hospital. I have received 14 treatments to date. Scan results have been good and I am tolerating the treatment well. I have joined PatientsLikeMe in the hope of connecting with people on the same or similar lung cancer immunotherapy treatments. Please, no clinical specific info, which would in any way compromise study results. Let’s talk about living day to day…I think you’ll know what I mean.

You were diagnosed about 2 years ago – what went through your mind after your diagnosis?

Diagnosis day was a tough day. Mentally paralyzing. No soft landing. I dealt with it as best as I could. Fortunately my beautiful wife was there for me. 

You’re a brand-new member of PatientsLikeMe – welcome! What do you think of the community and site so far? 

Thank you for your ‘new member’ welcome to PatientsLikeMe. What I have seen so far, this site looks to me to be very impressive, I found the section on sleep very reassuring. Insomnia is a big issue for me. I see now from your research data that I am not alone in this.

On your profile, you’ve noted that one of your interests is in clinical trials. What about clinical trials makes you passionate about them?

I do not think I am passionate about clinical trials per se. However, I am very enthusiastic about the immunotherapy study treatment that I am fortunate to currently be on. It has given me hope. A sense of hopelessness was never far from my mind in the first year after diagnosis. Five rounds of carboplatin chemotherapy was hard going, as it is for everyone. Now more stability has returned and with it, hope for the future.

Finally, what is one thing you’ve learned over the past two years since your diagnosis that you’d like to share with the lung cancer community?

Maybe one small way that I can try and say thanks to the cancer researchers, biotechnicians, study administrators and clinical care staff is to show support and encouragement for the groundbreaking work they are doing. They deserve all the flag waving acknowledgment possible for giving me back hope.

To paraphrase Mel Bernstein/Harris Yulin in Scarface, (1983), “Everyday above ground is a good day.”

Cheers!

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