Living with MS: Toronto Rehab promotes health and wellness


Five years ago, Jo-Anne Howe introduced a proposal for a multiple sclerosis health initiative at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (Toronto Rehab), and today she is still one of the key members of the interprofessional team working to provide inpatient and outpatient rehab services and health promotion programs for people with the disease.

“The challenges that an individual with MS faces can vary considerably from person to person says Jo-Anne, Clinical Educator in Physiotherapy at Toronto Rehab. Many find their independence and ability to move, which is key to everything we do, threatened by this disabling disease but rehab can be effective. It can improve quality of life increase a person’s function and sense of control.”

Life with MS is Toronto Rehab’s group outpatient education program designed to promote wellness in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). Participants learn to make appropriate lifestyle adjustments to maximize their health and well-being. In addition to topics such as physical fitness and nutrition, the 10 two-hour sessions also explore cognition and thinking skills, managing stress, intimacy and sexuality. The health-care system, according to Karen Sasaki, a co-facilitator of the program, does not address these topics.

The program’s group approach lets people know that there are others going through some of the same life-with-MS challenges, and allows them to strategize and problem solve together.

As one of the hospital’s first cross-program initiatives, patients with MS are served by several of Toronto Rehab’s six key rehab programs. “If you have MS and enter our system, then – with the information provided by you, the client, and your physicians – the system will match you with one of our programs that makes the most sense for you based on whatever skill set is required to help with your rehabilitation,” explains Dr. Mark Bayley, Medical Director of the Neuro Rehabilitation Program.

“It’s possible to live successfully with MS. A range of options from support services, to technology and healthy behaviors can help. That’s what we’re really trying to promote with our Life with MS program,” says Jo-Anne.

Life with MS is just one part of Toronto Rehab’s MS health system initiative. In 2002, two more programs, Keeping Fit with MS and Tai Chi with MS, were added to the hospital’s comprehensive health and wellness initiatives.


  • MS attacks a protective tissue called myelin, which surrounds and insulates nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. No single cause has been identified but MS is believed to be an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the myelin. This causes disruptions in the signals carried along nerve fibers.
  • MS can cause weakness, loss of balance and coordination, impaired speech, extreme fatigue, double vision, problems with bowel and bladder control, changes in thinking ability and memory, problems with mobility and even paralysis.
  • An estimated 6,000 people with MS live in the Greater Toronto Area.
  • An estimated 50,000 men and women in the country have MS, and every day three of more people in Canada are diagnosed with the disease.
  • Canadians have one of the highest rates of MS in the world.
  • Women are twice as likely to develop MS as men.
  • The cause of MS is unknown but researchers continue to work toward finding the answer. Therapies are available to treat some types of MS and symptoms of the disease.