How to Find the Right ALS Treatment for You
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, impacts about 30,000 Americans in the U.S. each year. While it is more common for those over the age of 60 to be diagnosed with ALS, this disease is also responsible for about 5 out of every 100,000 deaths in individuals aged 20 years and older.
An ALS diagnosis can be devastating. This condition causes slow degeneration of the motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain, causing muscle wasting and weakness. Currently, there is no cure.
However, there are various ALS treatment options that can help slow the progression of the disease and help a person maintain their independence for as long as possible. In this article, we are going to explore the top ALS treatment options.
ALS Treatment and What to Expect
Treatment usually involves a combination of approaches. Your doctor or medical team will determine the most suitable treatment option for you or your loved one. The following treatments are often what are included for slowing the symptoms of ALS.
Prescribed medication can help alleviate muscle cramping, fatigue, muscle pain, sleep issues, constipation, excessive salivation and phlegm and other symptoms. Some of the more common drugs used to help treat ALS include:
- Riluzole or Rilutek. This oral medication may improve life expectancy and symptoms, granting a person an average of three to six more months. Yet, there are some side effects, such as dizziness, liver changes and gastrointestinal issues.
- Edaravone or Radicava. This medication is received via an IV line and can improve daily functioning. Yet, again, there are some side effects, including shortness of breath, bruising and headaches.
Your medical team will monitor you for any side effects and regulate your dosages and type of medication accordingly. Your treatment may also include other medications depending on your symptoms and the stage of your ALS.
2. Physical Therapy
Different therapies play a key role in ALS treatment. Physical therapy involves exercises and manual therapy to improve muscle mass, strength, pain and mobility. These exercises can also support your cardiovascular and respiratory systems, which rely on muscles to function properly. Additionally, a physical therapist can help you adjust to the use of walking aids and braces.
3. Occupational Therapy
An occupational therapist helps you maintain your independence for as long as viably possible. They can help you find ways to perform your daily tasks differently and help you adjust to the use of new equipment to help complete your daily activities. They may also guide you in modifying your home to help support you and your independence.
4. Speech Therapy
Speech therapists help ensure your speech muscles maintain their function for as long as possible and help you practice being able to produce sounds that are comprehensible. They may also help you use text-to-talk devices when you lose the ability to speak.
5. Breathing Therapy
Eventually, you may also need breathing therapy. This may involve the use of a device to support your breathing muscles. Your doctor may suggest this at a certain point and help you determine the appropriate path for you.
6. Nutritional Counseling
Getting your nutritional needs is of the utmost importance for someone with ALS. As time goes on, it may get harder to swallow. A nutritionist can help you find ways around this, ensuring you consume the nutrients your body needs.
7. Special Equipment
As previously mentioned, therapists will work with you to help you use new devices so you can maintain your independence. Other special equipment you may eventually need include special mattresses, electric beds, stair chairs and more. These can help you stay mobile within your home, limiting pain.
Along with the above treatment options, it is important to care for yourself through psychological support (or for your loved ones to seek out psychological support). This may involve a social worker to help you pay for any devices you need, as well as group or individual therapy. There are often local ALS support groups, which you and your family can join to help you navigate this difficult diagnosis.
It’s also important to:
- Grieve. The news that you or a loved one has a fatal condition is difficult. Take the time you need to mourn and grieve. Your family may also need time to process what is happening.
- Maintain a positive attitude. This is tough, but so important. Those with an optimistic outlook tend to have a longer life expectancy.
- Decide on future medical treatments now. There will be a point in time where this will be hard to do. Thus, it is important to plan now and discuss with your family end-of-life procedures and plans.
- Focus on other parts of your life. ALS does not have to become your identity. You can still have a fulfilling life while living with this condition by turning your attention to your passions.
If you have recently received an ALS diagnosis, look for a support group in your area. Finding that support is essential for your life expectancy and for your quality of life.