New fatigue fighting tool offers MS patients hope

07 Sep, 2017
New fatigue fighting tool offers MS patients hope
AUT's Dr Kirsten van Kessel with the MS Energise app

A new app is now available to help those with multiple sclerosis (MS) cope with fatigue. The app, MS Energise, launched last week and uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) principles to help users self-manage the fatigue they experience as a result of their condition.

Between 65% and 95% of those with MS experience severe fatigue, which differs significantly from everyday tiredness. MS fatigue can be an overwhelming and disruptive symptom; it spans both physical and cognitive fatigue, can involve extreme tiredness after little activity, is unpredictable and constantly changing, and can temporarily worsen other MS challenges such as balance and concentration difficulties.

Recent research undertaken by the MS Energise project team has identified CBT as an effective form of treatment for MS-related fatigue. CBT focusses on enabling people to manage their condition, by facilitating understanding of the illness, changes in thinking in behaviour and, ultimately, positive therapeutic change. A randomised controlled trial (RCT) conducted in the United Kingdom found that CBT delivered in a group format reduced fatigue severity and fatigue self-efficacy (a person’s perceived ability to manage their fatigue) more than usual care, a gain that was maintained one year on from treatment.

An additional RCT found participants who received face to face CBT reported significantly greater reductions in fatigue than those who took part in an active relaxation alternative. Improvements in fatigue severity and impact were also observed following a subsequent pilot of CBT delivered by internet, combined with phone support.

Dr Kirsten van Kessel – Senior Psychology Lecturer at AUT, Clinical Psychologist, and MS Energise project lead – says having a research base of this calibre is rare among the many health apps coming onto the market, and a point of difference for MS Energise. “The MS Energise app is based on our previous research and incorporates CBT principles and mobile technology approaches we have trialled. Thus, both the content and the mode of delivery of the intervention are novel, but underpinned by a robust evidence base.”

While the evidence shows CBT has the potential to have a profound impact on the lives of those with MS, the therapy is not widely available. Offering CBT for fatigue via a mobile app removes the barriers of treatment cost, travel and shortfalls in specialist expertise – a major gain for MS patients, and a development that called for innovation from the project team.  

The team faced the challenge of adapting face to face CBT – which would usually be delivered by a psychologist over multiple sessions – into a digital, self-guided format. The finished product consists of seven modules that users work their way through over time, with a focus on learning new information, and interacting with the app to gain new tools to apply in day-to-day life. The app also allows users to track their progress and record future plans.

Field-testing has generated positive feedback, with participants noting there is nothing else like MS Energise on offer and one user commenting, “Finally there’s something available that people with MS fatigue can have access to.”

Dr van Kessel echoes these sentiments. “There’s a great need for interventions for people with MS,” she says. “We hope MS Energise will alleviate the often debilitating effects of MS-related fatigue and improve daily life for people with Multiple Sclerosis.”

MS Energise is available through the iTunes App Store – click here to download, or visit for more information.

The MS Energise project team consists of Dr Kirsten van Kessel, Associate Professor Duncan Babbage, Ann Sezier, Juliet Drown (all of AUT), Professor Paula Kersten (University of Brighton), Dr Sarah Thomas (Bournemouth University), and Professor Peter Thomas (Bournemouth University). The app was developed in collaboration with AUT Ventures, AUT’s Centre for Learning and Teaching and KiwiNet.