Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that effects the motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. This progressive degeneration continues until these motor neurons die, severing the brain’s ability to initiate and control muscle movement, including the ability to speak, eat, move, and, ultimately, breath. Roughly 75% of all ALS patients begin to experience muscle weakness in the hands, arms, feet, or legs, which is called limb-onset ALS, and the remaining 25% of people with ALS first show signs of slurred speech, which is called bulbar-onset ALS. No the type, ALS is 100% fatal and there is no known cure. Most people with ALS live about 2-5 years after experiencing their first signs of the disease.
What are some treatments available to those living with ALS?
As there is no known cure (though there are promising emerging treatments, including those focused on stem cell, antioxidant, motor neuron shielding, and immune system-modulating strategies), the “treatment” of ALS boils down to symptom management. ALS requires a multi-disciplinary approach that ensures a persons physical, psychological, and nutritional needs are all being met. This requires a team of therapists (e.g. speech, occupational), caregivers, and palliative specialists, in addition to assistive technology, which can include invasive/non-invasive ventilators, power wheelchairs, and eye tracking technology.