Today marks the start of Brain Awareness Week! The brain plays a critical role in mobility, as shown by people who have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” after the famous New York Yankees baseball player, ALS is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that affects motor neurons that initiate and control the movement of muscles and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. In people with ALS, the nerve cells that stimulate muscles have died, resulting in muscle tissues that waste away. At the onset of ALS, the symptoms may be so subtle that they are frequently overlooked. Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- Muscle weakness in one or more of the following: hands, arms, legs or muscles of speech, swallowing or breathing
- Twitching and cramping of muscles, especially those in the hands and feet
- Impairment in the use of arms and legs
- “Thick speech” and difficulty in projecting the voice
- In more advanced stages, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and swallowing
Currently there is no cure that stops or reverses ALS.