Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a debilitating neuromuscular disease. The disorder attacks the upper and lower motor neurons blocking the transmission of electrical impulses from the brain to the muscles throughout the body. This causes the muscles to lose strength, atrophy and eventually die.
Individuals suffering from ALS will ultimately lose the brain function of sending messages to their muscles and control their movement. Cognitive function is normally unaffected for the majority of patients, as is sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. ALS can present itself in anyone and more than 3,000 Canadians currently endure the disease which claims two to three lives every day.
To-date there is no known cause of ALS. There is some research that shows a hereditary link but this only occurs in a small percentage, 10%, of those diagnosed. At present, neither a cure for ALS nor a means of prevention is known. Potential causes that have been suggested, but have very little conclusive evidence include head trauma and participation in contact sports.
ALS usually becomes apparent either in the throat or upper chest area or in the arms and legs. Individuals may experience a disruption in balance which could lead to trips and falls, loss of control over hands and arms, difficulty swallowing or slurred speech.
The onset of ALS comes without pain or warning. As the disease progresses, muscle cramping can occur. In its final stages, the wasting of the body may cause severe pain. Depression and anguish often occurs as individuals have full cognitive function but are essentially trapped by an immobilized body.
ALS is not contagious. In 90% of ALS cases, it strikes people with no family history of the disease. Ten percent of the cases are classified as familial or inherited ALS. It may occur at any age, the likelihood increasing as people grow older. ALS occurs equally in men and women.
Although there is no treatment for ALS, supportive strategies are available to prolong and improve the quality of life. Assistive equipment can help those affected deal with limited capabilities. Because ALS is ongoing , progressive care must be taken to obtain equipment that will be functional for future needs.