We tend to take our abilities for granted. Scratching a mosquito bite, calling out to a friend across the street, running for a bus, licking an ice cream cone…these are all simple daily activities until one finds he no longer is capable of performing these previously effortless actions.
Muscular movement is controlled by the neurological system. Motor neurons ‘tell the muscles what to do’. But if they don’t? That is when we begin to realize just how complex our bodies are. A person finds he can no longer perform actions that have been part of his life since infancy.
This is what happens in ALS. The motor neurons are gradually lost and the muscles they control become weak and then non-functional. ALS stands for amyotrophic (without nourishment to muscles) lateral (affecting the side of the spinal cord) sclerosis (the hardened nature of the spinal cord). Its onset is gradual and, at first, the symptoms are merely annoying: dropping things, tripping, perhaps slurred speech. Slowly, other muscles become involved including those that help us breathe. Up until five years ago, life expectancy was short with death often due to respiratory failure and lack of ability to ingest nutrition but due to recent technological advances in prolonging life, some ALS patients can now live for decades.
The question then arises regarding the quality of life of these patients. A typical end stage Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis patient is not mobile at all. He lies in his bed or recliner, unable to lift his arm to reach for a tissue, unable to swallow food, unable to ask for a drink. He is completely dependent on his caretaker for every need. Continue reading When ALS Robs Its Victim of Every Skill He Had