Perhaps you are already subconsciously aware that independent movement is one of the capacities that can make or break a person’s functionality and wellbeing. Unfortunately, there are some people who are afflicted with motor neuron diseases (MND), which make their capacity for voluntary movement diminish over time. The most common form of motor neuron diseases is ALS.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS is a disease that affects the nerve cells that control muscle movement, leading to muscle weakness and stiffness. It is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Simple activities like walking, chewing or talking become difficult for someone with ALS. Over time, the condition worsens, which can also lead to difficulty in breathing.
Who is Prone to ALS?
At least 15 ALS cases are diagnosed daily in the United States, where more than 20,000 Americans are estimated to have the condition. Sixty percent of these cases are men and 90 percent are Caucasian males.
The signs and symptoms of ALS usually show in people who are 40 to 70 years old, but there are also rare cases of people younger than 40 who manifest the disease. Experts say that about 90 to 95 percent of ALS cases have no distinct factor or identifiable cause, while five to 10 percent of cases might be attributed to genetics.
Other factors that might cause ALS include:
- Incorrect protein processing in the body that kills the nerve cells in the muscles.
- Chemical imbalance and a higher level of glutamate in the body.
- A dysfunctional immune response which causes the nerve cells to die.
Environmental factors can also contribute to the risks. Experts found links to ALS among those who might have been exposed to mechanical, electrical, and chemical trauma at work. People in the military service also have higher risks of developing ALS in their later life. However, veterans who served the Gulf War in 1991 were more likely to develop ALS compared to military deployments elsewhere, according to a study.
What Happens if You Have an ALS?
Typically, the manifestations of the disease worsen and become more visible the as time passes. In the early stages, you might experience unusual limb fatigue, muscle twitches, and cramps. You might also notice that you are having difficulty in recalling memories and making decisions. You can also experience unusual emotional responses as you begin to lose control of the muscles in your face.
Other common symptoms include:
- Increased clumsiness
- Weakness in the arms, legs, ankles or feet, which can lead to difficulty in walking and doing daily activities
- Body pain or discomfort
- Increased saliva production in the mouth
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
- Slurred speech
- Cognitive changes
In later stages of ALS, you might have your driving privileges relinquished for your own safety. If you fall or lose your balance, you might not be able to get up unassisted. You might also begin to develop breathing difficulty, especially when lying down. In the later stages of ALS, paralysis can ensue.
ALS has no known cure but the symptoms can be alleviated with proper pain management and therapy. Aside from home remedies, it is likewise important to seek the help of different specialists to address the various physical and mental challenges that go with the symptoms.
Home Safety and Comfort
Safety and comfort are very important in the management of ALS. People with this condition are at risk of falls and slips because the disease affects their movement and balance. Modify the house and install additional safety measures to safeguard the patient.
If body paralysis is already starting to develop, use a specialized mattress that provides additional comfort, prevents bed sores, and improves blood circulation. A bed sore is a complication of prolonged immobility and staying in a single position for hours at a time. Change yours or your loved one’s lying and sitting positions every thirty minutes if voluntary movements are no longer possible. You can also do some range of motion exercises to their extremities to alleviate pain and reduce stiffness.
To address your mobility issues, a physical therapist will usually come up with an exercise plan for your cardiovascular fitness. He or she might also recommend mobility aids or other devices that will help with your movements, such as wheelchairs and walkers.
People with ALS find it hard to do their daily routines independently. To help you deal with this problem, you can consult an occupational therapist. He or she will guide you in using tools, technologies, and equipment needed for daily activities. Having some semblance of independence can also bring back your self-confidence and allow you to tackle your day-to-day activities with ease.
If you are experiencing difficulty in speaking, a speech therapists will teach you the right techniques or recommend alternative communication tools that will help you express yourself better.
As ALS progresses and affects your breathing function, you might eventually need to enlist a therapist to teach you with the specific techniques for proper breathing with weakened respiratory muscles. He or she might also help you adapt to an electronic device called the diaphragmatic pacemaker.
As for medicating ALS symptoms, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved three kinds of drug that have been clinically proven to minimize and delay physical deterioration.
- Riluzole, approved in 1995, remains the most widely used oral medication. It works to reduce the glutamate in the body that causes the chemical imbalance.
- Radicava, approved in 2017, is an IV medication that releases antioxidants to combat the toxins that damage the nerve cells.
- Nuedexta, approved in 2010, helps with involuntary laughing or crying as a result of uncontrollable facial muscles.
Doctors might also prescribe other medications to address associated discomforts and health issues like cramps, fatigue, excessive saliva, sleep disorders, constipation, and depression.
As with many illnesses and diseases, prevention is always better than a cure. Although experts are still trying to decode the real cause of ALS development, a study indicated that eating brightly colored fruits and vegetables might be beneficial. These foods are rich in carotenoids, lutein, vitamin C, and vitamin E, which can delay or prevent muscle degeneration.