Many conditions can affect the muscle function of the human body. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is one of them. 

This condition limits and disables a patient’s movements and muscle function. In time, as the disease progresses, it can affect multiple groups of muscles, making it difficult to function and live independently. 

This condition can bring hardship for people with ALS and their families. Our trained staff of experts can help you manage this condition and assist you with performing daily tasks that you are unable to do by yourself anymore.

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We support children (0-13), young people (13-17), adults (aged 18-65) and adults (65+) living with a range of complex care needs.

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What is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is the most frequent type of motor neuron diseases. It is a neurological illness that affects the parts of the nervous system that govern voluntary muscle movement.

When a person has ALS, nerve cells that control muscle cells (motor neurons) eventually die. As these motor neurons die, the muscles controlled by them become feeble and, as the disease progresses, they become non – functional. This results in muscle atrophy, twitching, limb weakening, and slurred speech.

ALS eventually impairs muscular control, affecting the ability to move, speak, eat, and breathe. This condition has no known treatment.

ALS Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis differ based on which neurons get damaged first. 

ALS causes muscles to become smaller (atrophic), weaker and softer; or stiffer, tighter, and spastic. Therefore, at the start, symptoms begin with muscle twitches.

ALS symptoms may be restricted to a particular body location, or they may impact various parts of the body.

When ALS starts with progressive bulbar palsy in motor neurons of the brainstem, the muscles responsible for swallowing and speaking are the first to be damaged. The onset of respiratory symptoms that start in the respiratory muscles is rare.

Here are the common symptoms and signs that occur in the majority of people who have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis:

· Difficulty walking or performing routine daily activities

· Falling and tripping

· Weakness in your legs, feet or ankles

· Hand clumsiness or weakness

· Slurred speech or swallowing difficulties

· Cramping muscles and twitching in your arms, shoulders, and tongue

· Crying, laughing or yawning when inappropriate

· Changes in cognition and behaviour

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis symptoms begin in the hands, feet, or limbs and extend to other body regions. The muscles weaken as the disease progresses, and nerve cells get destroyed. Chewing, swallowing, speaking, and breathing are all affected.

As the disease advances, symptoms spread and specific muscles become paralyzed, while others are weaker or unaffected. The majority of voluntary muscles in late-stage ALS are paralyzed.

What Muscle Groups Are Unaffected By ALS?

With amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the involuntary muscles that govern the heartbeat, gastrointestinal system, bowel, bladder, and sexual functions are unaffected. Also, sensations, including vision, hearing, and touch, remain untouched.

In many circumstances, ALS doesn’t affect a person’s thinking capacity. However, up to 50% of persons with ALS experience cognitive (thinking) or behavioural problems. 

What Muscle Groups Are Unaffected By ALS?

The nerve cells that regulate voluntary muscular movements such as walking and speech are affected by ALS (motor neurons). ALS causes motor neurons to degrade and eventually die. 

Motor neurons run from the brain to the spinal cord and then to muscles all over the body. When motor neurons are injured, they stop delivering messages to the muscles, resulting in muscular paralysis.

Researchers are still looking at the causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Most ideas revolve around the intricate interplay of hereditary and environmental variables.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is hereditary in 5% to 10% of the population. The reason ALS appears in people with no genetic predisposition is unknown.

Who Is at Risk of Getting ALS?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis often occurs in late middle age, the late 50s on average. However, it can afflict young individuals as well as the extremely old.

Some cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis begin in childhood. Moreover, men are somewhat more likely than women to get ALS before the age of 65 or 70.

Having a close relative with motor neurone disease or a similar disorder known as frontotemporal dementia can sometimes increase your chances of getting ALS. However, in most situations, it does not run in families. 

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Complications

As the illness advances it causes many challenges that can affect the independence of a person. 

Here are some of the challenges that people with this condition can face:

Breathing Problems

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis gradually paralyzes the muscles that allow you to breathe. You could require a device similar to what someone with sleep apnea might wear to help with breathing at night.

For example, you might be given a bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) device to help you sleep. This device can help you breathe by wearing a mask over your nose, mouth, or both.

Some persons with severe amyotrophic lateral sclerosis opt for a tracheostomy. This is a surgically constructed opening in the front of the neck that leads to the windpipe (trachea) and allows them to utilize a respirator to inflate and deflate their lungs continuously, preventing respiratory failure.

Speaking Problems

The majority of people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis have difficulty speaking. This generally begins as minor slurring of the words and progresses to more severe speech challenges. 

In the later stages of this condition, it becomes difficult for others to understand what the person is trying to say. Therefore, people with ALS frequently rely on other communication tools to deliver their messages.

Eating Problems

Malnutrition and dehydration can occur in people with ALS due to the impairment of the muscles that govern swallowing. They are also more likely to get food, drinks, or saliva into their lungs, which can lead to pneumonia. 

A feeding tube can help decrease these risks while ensuring sufficient hydration and nourishment.

Dementia

Patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis experience memory and decision-making issues, and some are eventually diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.

How is ALS Disease Connected With the Brain and Spinal Cord?

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a condition that not only affects nerve cells in the brain but also deteriorates nerve cells from the spinal cord. The term “Lateral” refers to the sections of a person’s spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and regulate the muscles are located.

Scarring or stiffening (“sclerosis”) of a region occurs when an area in the spinal cord degenerates. Motor neurons move from the brain to the spine and then to the muscles throughout the body. The gradual deterioration of motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their demise.

When motor neurons die, the brain and spine lose their capacity to initiate and control muscular movement. People may lose their capacity to talk, eat, move, and breathe as their voluntary muscular function deteriorates.

ALS affects and damages the motor neurons that regulate your voluntary movements. Thus, your muscles get damaged. This way, trying to reach for a smartphone or stepping off a curb are examples of voluntary motions that will be restrained. 

The spinal cord governs all movement in the extremities. Therefore, the damage in this area causes all the additional muscle disfunction.

How Can Nurseline Community Service Assist You?

There is no cure for ALS. However, therapy can help lower the severity of the symptoms. 

Nurseline Community Service can provide you with a team of experts and specialist leads that will deliver complex care for your needs. We tailor our work to our client’s specific needs and manage the challenges on the spot.

Medical interventions and technology have significantly improved the quality of life for persons who have ALS by assisting with breathing, nourishment, movement, and communication.

Proper symptom management and the proactive use of medical procedures and technology can improve daily life and potentially extend life expectancies.

Breathing Care

ALS affects your breathing. As your muscles weaken, you’ll have more trouble breathing. Our staff can frequently assess your breathing and assist you with your equipment to help you breathe at night.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

Our staff trained in occupational therapy support can assist you with finding strategies to maintain your independence despite hand and arm weakness.

Dressing, grooming, eating, and bathing can all be made easier using adaptive equipment and assistance from our team.

If you have problems walking safely, our staff can also help you alter your house to make it more accessible.

Exercise and Mobility

Our trained specialist leads will help you stay independent by addressing your pain, walking, mobility, bracing, and equipment needs.

Low-impact workouts can assist you in preserving your cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and range of motion for as long as possible.

Exercise on a regular basis might also help you feel better. Our staff is proactive and can assist you with daily exercises and stretching to avoid discomfort and improve muscular function.

They can also assist you in adjusting to a brace, walker, or wheelchair and may recommend devices such as ramps to help you with your movement.

Speech Therapy

Nurseline Community Service personnel can teach adaptive strategies to improve the clarity of your speech. 

They can also assist you in experimenting with alternative modes of communication, such as an alphabet board or pen and paper.

You can discuss with your therapist about borrowing or renting communication devices such as tablet computers with text-to-speech programs or computer-based equipment with synthetic speech.

Nutritional Assistance

Our staff will collaborate with you and your family to ensure that you are consuming meals that are easy to swallow and satisfy your nutritional requirements.

You may eventually require a feeding tube, and our staff is trained to handle this equipment.

Psychological and Social Assistance

Our trained and trustworthy staff may help you with financial concerns, insurance, and obtaining and paying for necessary equipment and gadgets.

FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions that might help clarify some ambiguities.

What are usually the first signs of ALS?

The signs of ALS might be so mild that they are disregarded initially, but they eventually grow into more noticeable weakness or atrophy.

Early signs and symptoms may include:

  • Twitching muscles in the arm, leg, shoulder, or tongue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle tension and stiffness (spasticity)
  • Muscle weakness in one arm, leg, neck, or diaphragm
  • Slurred and nasal speech
  • Chewing or swallowing difficulties

The early symptoms of ALS generally first show in the hands or arms in general and can manifest as difficulties with simple actions like buttoning a shirt, writing, or turning a key in a lock.

In some situations, symptoms begin with one leg. People feel uneasy when walking or jogging and may slip or stumble frequently.

What is your life expectancy with ALS?

ALS doesn’t start abruptly. Unfortunately, no blood test exists for ALS. As a result, clinicians monitor the progression of symptoms, assess the efficacy of prospective treatments and then give the diagnosis.

From the moment symptoms first appear, it takes an average of nine to twelve months for someone to be diagnosed with ALS. Getting the proper diagnosis on time is critical, especially because treatment with Rilutek has significantly slowed down the course of ALS. If you have this condition, the sooner you begin to treat ALS, the better.

The rate at which ALS advances can also be quite variable. Although the average survival period with ALS is two to five years, some patients live for five, ten, or more years. It all depends in which phase you will start to treat ALS.

How does a person get ALS?

The aetiology of ALS is unknown, and experts aren’t sure why it affects some people but not others. However, scientific data shows that both genetics and environment play a role in motor neuron degeneration and ALS development.

Familial ALS (Genetic)

Approximately 5% to 10% of all cases are familial ALS, which indicates that the condition might be genetically inherited from a parent. The disease-causing gene is frequently carried by just one parent in the familial type of ALS . Mutations in over a dozen genes have been linked to familial ALS.

Environmental considerations

Environmental variables such as hazardous or infectious agents, viruses, physical trauma, food, and behavioural and occupational factors are being studied by researchers.

Toxin exposure during wars, for example, or excessive physical exercise may be why some veterans and athletes are at an elevated risk of acquiring ALS. Ongoing research may reveal that some environmental factors might be involved in the disease’s genesis or progression.

What happens to a person who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

Motor neurons in your brain and spinal cord die due to ALS.  When this happens, your brain is unable to deliver information to your muscles. Because the muscles get no impulses, they become extremely feeble. This is referred to as atrophy. The muscles eventually stop working, and you lose control of their movement.

Your muscles will first become weak or rigid. Fine actions like trying to button your clothing or turn a key may be more difficult for you. You may slip or fall more frequently. After a while, you can’t move your arms, legs, head, or body.

People with ALS eventually lose control of their diaphragm, the muscles in the chest that let you breathe. After that, they will be unable to breathe on their own and will require the assistance of a breathing machine.

Conclusion

Caring for a person with ALS can be a heavy burden. It can affect the family as well as it affects the person that has ALS.

Contact us and let us assist you with caring for your loved one. We can provide you with tailored care just for your needs.

We offer a heart-led approach and entail kindness and compassion in everything we do. Give us a call, and we’ll take care of the rest.