If the doctor has confirmed a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease for a family member, you’re likely to have a lot of questions. Also known as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), it’s not as commonly diagnosed as many other chronic health conditions. It’s estimated that as few as one to three new diagnoses per 100,000 people in the U.S. are made each year. But when one of those people is someone you love, knowing the symptoms and stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease becomes vitally important. May is ALS Awareness Month, and the perfect time to better understand this disease and what to expect throughout each stage.
What Exactly Is Lou Gehrig’s Disease?
Lou Gehrig, a player for the New York Yankees who lived with ALS, is the disease’s namesake. As a form of motor neuron disease, it impacts the strength and functionality of voluntary muscle movement. The causes are still uncertain, but hypothesized to result from a genetic disposition linked to certain environmental factors. One in ten people diagnosed have a family history of the disease.
What Are the Symptoms and Stages of Lou Gehrig’s Disease?
Although each person is unique, there are four primary stages of ALS, each with its own unique symptoms:
In the initial phase of ALS, the person may try to disregard symptoms or attribute them to something else. Gradually, however, the symptoms will increase in intensity to the point that a medical exam is warranted. Symptoms include:
- Weaker or softer muscles, OR
- Tighter, stiffer, and spastic muscles
- Twitching and cramping of muscles
- Muscle atrophy
- Slurring of speech
- Balance problems/tripping when walking
Symptoms are more pronounced and noticeable in this stage. They’re also more widespread throughout the body. During this time, the person may also experience pseudobulbar affect, which involves episodes of uncontrolled crying or laughter for no apparent reason. By the time this stage is reached, the person should no longer be driving. Other symptoms include:
- Further weakening of muscles, some to the point of paralysis (while others may be completely unaffected)
- Pain, rigidity, and/or deformity of joints
- Swallowing difficulties
- The inability to stand up from a fall
- Breathing problems that are exacerbated by lying down
During the late stage of ALS, most voluntary muscles are extremely compromised and/or completely paralyzed. Support with personal care needs is required at this stage. Symptoms to watch for:
- Loss of the ability to speak
- A possible inability to eat and drink by mouth
- Respiration difficulties
- Fuzzy thinking
- Mobility limitations
Hospice care is beneficial to alleviate discomfort, fear, and anxiety that are common due to respiratory difficulties. The earlier hospice is provided, the greater level of comfort there will be for the person as well as their family members. Exploring hospice options before the person reaches end-stage ALS is recommended.
How Home Care Can Help
An in-home caregiver is a crucial component to the best care for someone with Lou Gehrig’s disease. At Abrio Home Care, our caregivers are fully trained and experienced in meeting a wide range of in-home care needs. This allows family members to step away from their care duties for much-needed breaks for self-care and to tend to other responsibilities. We offer:
- Sensitive, respectful support with personal hygiene needs that preserve dignity
- Assistance with walking and transfers to prevent falls
- Meal planning and preparation, and feeding assistance when needed
- Light housekeeping and laundry
- Companionship to help make each day the best it can be
- And more