ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a fatal neurodegenerative disease with no known cause or cure. It affects adults of all ages and is completely indiscriminate of color, race or gender. It is a rapidly progressive disease that affects the nerve cells (neurons) that are responsible for controlling the body muscles. The neurons degenerate or die and are no longer able to send messages to the body’s muscles. As a result, the muscles gradually weaken or atrophy.
However, the brain continues to remain alert yet, its instructions and messages to the body muscles do not connect. Patients lose their strength as well as the ability to move their arms, legs, hands, feet, and head. Eventually all systems of the body become immobile except for the brain. At the advanced stage, patients may progress to a convalescent arrangement requiring the total assistance of caregivers, family, friends, or nursing staff. Also tracheotomy, stomach feeding, and the dependence on a ventilator breathing machine may become the norm.
Most patients pass from respiratory failure within a 3-5 year period. However, a small percentage of patients have been able to survive 10 or more years. This disease has a tremendous effect on families physically, financially, and emotionally. The progressive decline of patients takes a toll on the family who can only watch helplessly as their love ones slowly become incapacitated. As small tasks become more difficult, the availability of dedicated caregivers becomes increasingly important.
Treatment focuses on helping patients cope with symptoms and comforting them as much as possible. Physical, occupational, nutritional, speech, and spiritual therapies are important in treating this disease. There are those that theorize that chemical toxicity may play a contributing role in the disease’s development. In these circles, detoxification, an organic diet, physical exercise, and/or alternative therapies is the path often taken.
There are millions of dollars fundraised annually and donated towards laboratory research leading towards the discovery of a cure. The Muscular Dystrophy Association, ALS division, the ALS Association, the ALS Therapy Development Institute provide strong national leadership in the fight against this disease.