What is ALS?
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a devastating progressive neuromuscular disease, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. ALS occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic boundaries, typically striking men and women between the ages of 35 and 70. Over 5,000 Americans are diagnosed with ALS each year. Between 5 and 10% of those cases are familial, occurring more than once within a single family line.
ALS is characterized by a degeneration of motor cells in the brain and spinal cord, leading to muscle weakness and, as the disease progresses, severe impairment of mobility, speech, swallowing, and respiratory function. A smaller percentage of people with ALS may also experience cognitive changes, a kind of dementia resulting from degeneration in parts of the brain which control thinking, behavior, and language skills. This co-occuring disease is called "Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration," or FTLD. In the advanced stages of ALS, care can cost up to $250,000 a year. Average life expectancy, without invasive mechanical ventilation, is approximately two to five years from diagnosis. But with advances in research and improved medical care, many are living longer, more productive lives. Half of all affected live at least three years after diagnosis; 20% live five years or more and up to 10% will live more than ten years.
While recent research has shed light on possible causes of ALS, its cure remains a mystery. However recent advances and increased funding for research make this truly a time of hope.