Most of us remember the ice bucket challenge that went viral on social media between July and August of 2014. The challenge was a fantastic fundraiser for ALS organizations around the world and also helped raised awareness of the disease. Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 people in Canada have ALS at this time and the condition typically affects those between 40 and 70 years of age.
What is ALS?
ALS stands for: Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis. It’s also known as Charcot’s Disease, Lou Gehrig’s Disease and it is the most common form of Motor Neurone Disease or MND. ALS damages motor neurons which are the links in the nervous system, connecting signals from the brain to the voluntary muscles throughout the body. ALS does not affect the 5 senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. It also doesn’t typically affect the muscles of the eyes, the heart, bladder, bowel or sexual muscles.
How does ALS affect the body?
Symptoms and signs of ALS, and the order in which they occur, vary from one person to another. In the early stages, they may seem trivial or be dismissed as normal signs of aging.
Potential early signs
- Dropping things
- Slurred or “thick” speech
- Difficulty swallowing
- Weight loss
- Decreased muscle tone
- Shortness of breath
- Increased or decreased reflexes
- Uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying
Potential early symptoms
- Feeling weak
- Muscle cramping or twitching
- Muscle stiffness or rigidity
Over time, the muscle weakening will continue to spread throughout the body, eventually causing difficulties with breathing, chewing, swallowing and speaking.*
*Source, current as of 11/14/2016
How can a Physiotherapist help?
Patients with ALS and their Caregivers can implement strategies to cope with the symptoms associated with this disease and to improve their quality of life. Optimizing care will help to decrease trips to the doctor, help have better control over the disease or condition as well as possibly improve overall wellness.
A Physiotherapist can identify and help implement strategies to help those with ALS optimize the ability to carry out activities of daily living safely and efficiently. Physiotherapists can help:
- Provide education to those with ALS, their family or caregivers.
- Provide initial and ongoing assessment of strength, function and comfort.
- Design and monitor a therapeutic exercise regimen when appropriate in order to optimize strength and function.
- Optimize skin integrity with positioning strategies and ensuring the appropriate supports are in place.
- Assist with breathing management.
- Optimize environment supports and prevent the purchase of unsuitable equipment.
- Provide resources for further community support.
- Some people with ALS will experience physical pain, joint discomfort or cramping.
Physiotherapists can provide active and/or passive range of motion exercises to alleviate the feelings of pain.
ALS Canada has several resources for those looking for information about this condition.
Source Image Credit: ALSA Oregon, originally posted 03/15/2016.