June has been named the official ALS Awareness Month by the ALS Association. ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but is better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The more familiar term was coined after Major League Baseball player Lou Gehrig’s very public battle with the disease. Gehrig contracted the disease at the age of 36, which ended his career in the Major Leagues and ultimately took his life two years later.
ALS is a degenerative disease that affects the nerves, specifically the motor neurons that enable the brain to communicate commands to the spinal cord and then to the rest of the body, controlling voluntary movement. The disease kills motor neurons, which cannot be replaced, and leads to total paralysis. Presently, there is no known cure.
The purpose of ALS Awareness Month is to raise public awareness of the fight against this disease’s crippling and often fatal effects, to assist those who are suffering with ALS, and to find a cure to stop the disease in years to come.
ALS is most likely to strike between the ages of 40 to 70, and currently affects around 30,000 nationwide. It is not contagious, hereditary, or congenital, and affects both men of women of all races without preference. The disease can start out with a variety of symptoms, but usually includes unusual muscle weakness and fatigue, increased clumsiness, unclear speech, and attacks of muscle twitches or cramps. In later stages, it affects the ability to swallow and breathe.
The most startling statistic about ALS is its death rates. One someone is diagnosed with ALS, they have an average of 2-5 years to live, although some have been known to live up to 20 years with the disease. It very rarely stops progressing or reverses its damage.
The only successful treatment of ALS symptoms is a drug called Riluzole, approved by the FDA in 1995. It has been proven to lengthen the lives of ALS sufferers.
Since ALS causes progressive paralysis, it eventually leaves its sufferers completely disabled. Treatment of the disease also becomes extremely expensive in the later stages. If you are an ALS sufferer, you may be eligible for disability benefits such as Social Security Disability, Medicare, or VA disability.
ALS is listed on the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s Listing of Impairments. If you are diagnosed with ALS, it may be necessary to apply for disability benefits as your motor abilities decrease and you are unable to perform many necessary job functions. The SSA will determine if you meet the criteria necessary to be considered disabled by the disease, and if so, approve you for disability benefits.
ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a formidable foe that strikes many people unaware and takes the lives of 2 out of 100,000 people annually. Being aware of the statistics, symptoms and treatments of this disease is important in the early diagnosis of ALS. If you or a loved one is facing a battle with ALS, you should strongly consider applying for either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.