What is ALS?
ALS, called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, is a rare neurological disorder that mainly impacts the neurons, brain cells, that control voluntary muscle movement. Voluntary muscle movement controls most of the activities that bring a person quality of life such as walking, talking, and eating. The disease is progressive. This means it can start off slowly and then get worse over time.
ALS belongs to a wider group of neurological disorders called Motor Neuron Disease. These diseases are caused by the gradual degeneration of the nerve cells that control motor movement.
Who Gets ALS?
ALS is a common neuromuscular disease that affects worldwide. A recent study by the Center for Disease Control estimates that 14,500 Americans have ALS. People of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds can get ALS.
How Do You Know if You Have ALS?
The onset of ALS is so subtle in most cases that many people do not know that what they are experiencing on the beginning symptoms of ALS. Over time the slight symptoms turn into obvious muscle weakness or atrophy. This is when a person becomes alarmed and visits his doctor.
Does ALS Affect Your Memory?
What Are the Risk Factors for ALS?
There are 3 significant risk factors that might put a person more at risk for developing ALS.
- Age: Although ALS can develop at any age it is more likely to develop between the ages of 55 – 75 years old.
- Gender: Men are slightly more at risk than women to develop ALS but that gap closes as age increases.
- Race and Ethnicity: People who are Caucasian and Non-Hispanic are at slightly higher risk for developing ALS.
Are Military Veterans at Risk for ALS?
Yes. Military personnel have been identified as developing ALS more than the general population. It is not completely clear why this is true but is suspected that exposure to neurotoxins such as lead, pesticides, and other environmental toxins is at the root of the increased incidence. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs recognizes ALS as a military service-related condition.
What are the Symptoms of ALS?
- Muscles Twitches (Fasciculations) in the arms, legs, shoulders, and tongue
- Muscles Cramps
- Tight and Stiff Muscles (Spasm)
- Muscle Weakness affecting an arm, leg, neck, the diaphragm for breathing
- Slurred or Nasal Speech
- Difficulty Chewing or Swallowing
Sometimes the symptoms begin in the legs or arms, called “Limb Onset ALS” and other times symptoms begin with speech, chewing, and swallowing. This is called “Bulbar Onset ALS”. Regardless of which part of the body the symptoms begin in, the disease progresses to all muscles and the person may suffer from speech problems, Dysarthria, and swallowing problems, Dysphagia.
Why Do People with ALS Lose Weight So Fast?
ALS makes it very difficult for people to chew and swallow. This problem is called Dysphagia. This puts them at significant risk for choking. The increased risk of choking and the fact that they burn calories faster than those without ALS make it so that often people with ALS become malnourished quickly. Neurofeedback Therapy and working with a trained speech-language pathologist can help keep eating skills in better form, longer. This can help keep a person with ALS at a healthy weight longer, improving quality of life.
How is ALS Diagnosed?
In the early stages, ALS can be difficult to diagnose and your doctor will consider a detailed history of the progression of the symptoms. At the same time, other more treatable diseases will be ruled out as the disease progresses. A variety of diagnostic will be used to determine if the challenges are due to ALS or something else. These possible tests include:
- qEEG Brain Mapping uses EEG technology in advanced ways to show brain areas that are not functioning properly. More importantly than that, for ALS, is communication between brain areas is shown to be impaired on new Science Connectivity between the back and the front of the brain within brain over-activity shows
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) show structural degeneration in motor brain areas and corticospinal tracts that control motor movements. Science shows this physical degeneration is directly related to the same areas not functioning properly electrically on qEEG. MRI can also identify other reasons for the muscle weakness such as a Herniated Disc, a spinal cord tumor, and Cervical Spondylosis.
- Electromyography (EMG) will be used to assess muscle fiber function based upon electrical activity. This can help determine if the problem is in the brain or in the muscles themselves.
- Nerve Conduction Study (NCS) will assess if nerves are able to fire their signals. This can help to tell if the nerves are firing properly or if the problem is in the brain
What Are the Treatments of ALS?
- Neurofeedback Therapy to improve brain functioning and slow cell degeneration
- Speech-Language Pathology for speech and swallowing problems
- Occupational Therapy for small motor movements
- Physical Therapy for large motor movements
- Prescription Medication
How Can Brain-based Therapies Help ALS?
Brain-based Therapies allow the areas of the brain that are not working properly to be exercised so that they work better. When the brain area works better, symptoms are reduced. First, the brain patterns that are associated with ALS are identified and visualized on a qEEG Brain Map. This allows for better understanding of the underlying problem. Once the brain patterns are seen, then the professionals know what needs to be done to improve brain functioning.
Human brains have been mapped by neuroscientists so that we know which areas of the brain control which skills. Thus, if the motor area of the brain is not working properly, symptoms result. This underactivity of the brain area is easily seen using qEEG Brain Mapping.
Neurofeedback Therapy has been proven by Science to improve brain functioning in neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, and to help cells stay healthier, longer. Neurofeedback Therapy exercises the weakened areas of the brain so that they are stronger and perform the motor skills that they control better.
Is ALS Curable?
No. At this point ALS is not curable, however brain-based therapies such as Neurofeedback Therapy can improve functioning of the brain in the areas that show deterioration on a qEEG Brain Map. In fact, a recent Science study shows that Neurofeedback Therapy can stop or slow nerve degeneration, slowing the progression of symptoms and improving quality of life.
Leigh Brain and Spine is proud to have earned the distinction as a Certified Brain Health Coach Center and is a proud member of the Amen Clinics referral network.