Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a type of Motor Neuron Disease (MND). ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, owing to the fact that the famed baseball player had it from about 1939 to 1941. ALS is a nasty neurodegenerative disease that affects the spinal cord and muscle neurons that, in 80% of cases, leaves one’s mental capacity wholly intact. Everything that you can control from the eyes down is affected. Naturally, this comes with symptoms such as
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of balance
- Increased salivary output (drooling)
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
- Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA)
- Muscle Atrophy
- Dementia (in 20% of cases)
All but the last one are actual, physical manifestations of this disease, some make perfect sense while others, like the drooling, kind of don’t. I know that PBA isn’t something you typically hear about either, so I’m going to explain it to you. PBA is a short-circuit in my brain that makes me laugh really freaking hard and with extreme ease. And I smile so, so easily. But that’s just one half. Typically, PBA goes one of two ways; you laugh really easily, or you cry really easily. I’m lucky. I giggle.
And, I know you must be wondering what it is that makes ALS such a big deal, and one reason is this; Lou Gehrig’s is imminently fatal. Most websites site a 3-5 year lifespan from disease onset with no known treatment and that is entirely depressing. I’m 20. That is a hard, hard pill to swallow at my age. We also don’t know what causes it, so we don’t know how to treat it. We know what cancer is and how it generally comes about. But what is making our nerves die, and so quickly?
Fortunately, ALS is pretty much painless, which makes it all a little easier. And while there is not a treatment for the disease itself, advances have been made in technology and medication, so quality of life can be increased significantly. Ramps, eyegaze systems, Bruno wheelchairs and handicap-accessible vehicles all help tremendously, as do so many other things.
Doctors and researchers are searching for a cure. For more information on how you can help, visit alsa.org.