May is ALS awareness month. ALS is commonly referred to as Lou Gerhig's Disease, after New York Yankees first baseman, Lou Gehrig, who was the first famous face associated with ALS. Others may think of British physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking. ALS affects people of all genders and races, with up to 15 new cases diagnosed every day, so raising awareness is critical.
ALS, (amyotrophic laterals sclerosis), is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. As it progresses, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost, which may cause one to lose the ability to speak, eat, move and breathe. The onset of the disease is gradual and symptoms may vary, with some having trouble grasping objects and others noticing a change in the pitch of their voice. Some common symptoms of ALS are twitching and cramping of muscles, especially in the hands and feet, and loss of motor control in the hands and arms—as well as impaired use of arms and legs, weakness and fatigue, tripping and falling, dropping things, uncontrollable periods of laughing and crying, and slurred or thick speech. While individuals with ALS lose their strength and ability to move their arms, legs, and bodies, the disease does not affect their ability to see, taste, hear, or recognize touch, and it usually does not impair their ability to think or reason. The speed and order of the disease’s progression varies from person to person.
ALS usually affects people between the ages of 40 and 70 and is 20% more common in men than in women. There are approximately 20,000 Americans living with the ALS and military veterans are twice as likely to contract it. There are two different types of ALS; sporadic and familial. Sporadic is the most common, responsible for 90%-95% of cases. Familial ALS is inherited, with a 50% chance of offspring inheriting the gene mutation. ALS is difficult to diagnose. Because there is not a specific test or procedure to establish a diagnosis of ALS, a series of clinical examinations and diagnostic tests are necessary to rule out other diseases that mimic ALS before a positive diagnosis can be given.
Though a diagnosis of ALS can be overwhelming and difficult to process, research continues every day for a cure. Mom's Care Plan has the privilege of helping many families through this journey and continues to offer resources, support and options for care.