What Is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)?
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a disease people usually associate with the legendary physicist Stephen Hawking. The celebrity scientist fell victim to ALS at an early age but miraculously survived his condition for 55 years when the disease generally kills a patient within four years. However, Hawkings was just one of the many victims of this disease; ALS is a common complication of old age.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a disease of the nervous system that causes a loss of muscle control. It gets progressively worse and often kills its victim in a few years. People with this condition require specialized care, which their caregivers usually cannot provide. Instead, professionals from services such as Husky Senior Care are better suited to care for such patients. Here is all you need to know about ALS:
Table of Contents
How Does ALS Happen?
The nervous system is categorized into two types:
- The sensory nervous system receives information from sense organs and transmits it to the brain
- The motor nervous system sends the brain’s message to the muscles
ALS is a disease of the motor nervous system, as it damages the nerves controlling muscles. In ALS, the motor nerve cells deteriorate over time and eventually die. As the nerve cells are not regenerated in the brain, a person with ALS eventually loses control of their muscles, which inhibits them from carrying out activities such as walking or running. The condition has an inherited genetic component, which means that individuals with a family history are more likely to develop the disease.
Symptoms and Complications
The symptoms of ALS vary from person to person, depending on which nerves are affected, but muscle weakness is a common symptom. Affected individuals may show difficulty in walking and often trip when they walk. They may also have slurred speech.
ALS often correlates with behavioral changes too; patients exhibit a deficit in cognition, show disinhibition, and develop apathy. Individuals who start showing these symptoms should avoid the gym because exercises such as chest press machines can potentially cause injury.
ALS can cause several complications, including breathing problems and dementia. A patient may find breathing difficult if the nerves controlling rib cage muscles, abdominal muscles, and other muscles that allow you to breathe are damaged. Such individuals will need devices patients with sleep apnea use to help them breathe at night, but they may cause certain respiratory illnesses. Likewise, if a patient’s mouth muscles are affected, they may lose their ability to eat or speak.
Some common risk factors for ALS include:
- ALS happens due to a mutation in the gene known as superoxide dismutase, which can be inherited. If ALS is present in your family, you are at an increased risk of developing the disease later in life.
- The chances of developing ALS increase as you age.
- A history of smoking can aggravate ALS. This effect is more noticeable in women after menopause.
- Recent studies have liked heavy metal exposure to ALS. Exposure to lead has been linked to the risk of developing ALS; however, this is relatively new evidence and requires more research.
ALS is a genetic disease that affects the elderly population significantly. Individuals with ALS lose their ability to control their muscles, leading to several complications such as paralysis and loss of speech.
As an ALS patient cannot eat, speak, or walk, caring for these patients is a difficult task that requires professionals. Consider hiring a health expert specialized in ALS to get your loved one quality home care.