As we age, we become more susceptible to health risks and other dangers. Some diseases are more prevalent in older individuals. One serious condition that seems to pop up more as we get older is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a disease that affects muscles and physical capabilities.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, it affects as many as 30,000 people in the United States and is most common in people aged 60 and over. Estimates suggest that ALS is responsible for as many as five of every 100,000 deaths in people aged 20 or older.
ALS is a complicated disease as there are a number of symptoms that can make daily living difficult, but mainly due to the fact that there is no known cause in most cases of the disease. Even more problematic is that there is no cure for the disease, only some treatment that helps lessen some of the effects.
What is ALS?
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is progressive nervous system disease that weakens muscles and affects physical function. The disease destroys nerve cells and causes disability. According to the ALS Foundation, a little over 5,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS each year, about 15 new cases each day.
The disease is sometimes referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease as the hall of fame baseball player was diagnosed with the disease on his 36th birthday. The 7-time All-Star and 6-time World Series champion died at the age of 37.
While cases of the disease can occur for people in their 20s and 30s, it is much more common for ALS to occur as men and women grow older. Most people who develop the symptoms of the disease are between the ages of 55 and 75. Men are slightly more likely than women to develop the condition, by the difference between men and women disappears as we age.
ALS can affect anyone with no racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic boundaries, however, military veterans are about twice as likely to develop the condition.
ALS is a difficult disease to diagnose as there is no one test or procedure to establish the diagnosis of the disease. It is found through a clinical examination and a series of tests and procedures. Some of the tests that need to be conducted include spinal taps, blood and urine studies, x-rays, muscle and nerve biopsies, and more.
The symptoms, especially initial symptoms in the early stages of the disease, can be different for each individual case. Some people may have problems with motor function like picking something up or writing, while others may experience speech problems. However, progressive muscle weakness and paralysis are universally experienced. In fact, gradual onset, generally painless, progressive muscle weakness is the most common initial symptom of ALS.
Because the disease affects the muscles, the disease can eventually affect breathing as the muscles that control the respiratory system can be impacted. Eventually, people with the disease may need permanent ventilatory support to breathe properly.
Other symptoms that people diagnosed with ALS may experience includes:
- Dropping items
- Fatigue in the arms or legs
- Slurred speech
- Muscle cramps
- Uncontrollable laughing or crying
Similarly, the rate at which ALS progresses can also be quite different person to person.
Lou Gehrig’s disease inherited in 5 to 10 percent of cases, while the causes of the rest of the cases are unknown. Scientists do not know why ALS affects some people by not others. However, according to the National Institute of Health, there is some evidence that suggest that both genetics and environment play a role in the development of ALS.
There are a number of adverse effects and complications that come ALS. For example, some people who are diagnosed with ALS can experience problems with memory and making decisions, eventually some of the people are diagnosed with a form of dementia called frontotemporal dementia.
Treatment and Life Expectancy For ALS
There is no current known cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease, however there are treatment options that can be implemented to slow and reduce the effectiveness of symptoms related to ALS.
The life expectancy for people diagnosed with ALS is not concrete as all cases are different. However, according to the the ALS Foundation, the average life expectancy for a person with ALS is about two to five years from the time of diagnosis.
Half of all people affected with ALS live at least three years or more after diagnosis. Around 20 percent live for five years or more and 10 percent will live longer than 10 years.
As mentioned before, there is no cure for the disease, but there are things that can be done to prolong life and improve quality of life. Treatment options are different based on each case, so consulting with a medical professional to find out the best path forward is the best option.
Two medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of ALS. Rilutek is a drug that is used to slow the progression of the disease in some people. Radicava has shown that it can slow the decline in daily functioning associated with ALS.
When we get older, it becomes more likely that we will have to deal with health issues. Some diseases start to become more prevalent as we age, one such disease is ALS. ALS is a progressive nervous system disease that affects the nerve cells and mobility. Currently there are no known cures for ALS, only some medications and treatment options to slow the progression of muscle weakness. Living with diseases like ALS can be hard, especially if you are still living alone. If you or a loved one is dealing something like this or is struggling to live independently you may want to look into assisted living communities. At the living facilities as Landmark Senior Living, we offer residents a path forward that uses both medical care and social activities to allow them to enjoy a healthy and happy life in their later years.