Did you know that almost 30,000 Americans have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at any given time? ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease is a neurological disease which attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. Last month was ALS Awareness month, so today we’ll be dedicating our blog to providing some information about ALS: what it is, how it affects communication, and how you can join the fight to find a cure. ALS hits my family hard. My mother lost a total of five siblings to ALS. Every year my extended family of cousins and friends walk in the NYC ALS WALK.
In order to control our muscle movement, our bodies rely on nerve cells called motor neurons. In a healthy system, motor neurons in the brain transmit messages to motor neurons in the spinal cord which then send signals to muscles in the body. When a person has ALS, the motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord degenerate. This means that the brain can no longer communicate with the body’s musculature. Since muscles are no longer able to function, they gradually weaken and waste away.
ALS can significantly impact speech and communication abilities. As the muscles degenerate, a significant decrease in the volume and clarity of speech is noted. Early symptoms include nasal speech (talking out of your nose), difficulty pronouncing words clearly, and difficulty maintaining breath support for longer sentences. As the disease progresses, the ability to speak and vocalize is often lost completely. In addition to communication deficits, issues with chewing and swallowing are also common. Although there is no cure for ALS, a speech-language pathologist can help a person with ALS to communicate to the best of their ability for as long as possible, and can provide mealtime strategies to patients and their caregivers to increase safety while eating.
ALS is a rapidly progressive and ultimately fatal disease. When muscles required in breathing begin to fail, the patient dies from respiratory failure, typically between three and five years from the onset of the disease. The cause of the disease is unknown and there is no known cure. To find out how you can join the fight for a cure, visit the ALS Association’s webpage at http://www.alsa.org/fight-als/. Please feel free to join me on the walk next year or follow us on Facebook and learn more about the walk next year.
For information on our New York based Speech-Language Pathology services, please call Speech Associates of New York today at (212) 308-7725 or visit our website at http://www.speechassociatesofny.com and find out how our team of professionally trained and certified speech-language pathologists can help!
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