Announcement from football legend puts ALS back in the news

15 people a day are diagnosed with ALS

Former San Francisco 49ers player and Super Bowl champion Dwight Clark recently announced that he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

ALS affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that reach to the muscles throughout the body, called motor neurons. As the disease progresses, these motor neurons die and the brain is no longer able to control muscle movement.

“In addition to losing strength in my left hand — which makes opening a pack of sugar or buttoning my shirt impossible — I have now experienced weakness in my right hand, abs, lower back and right leg,” wrote the 60-year-old Clark. “I can’t run, play golf or walk any distances. Picking up anything over 30 pounds is a chore. The one piece of good news is that the disease seems to be progressing more slowly than in some patients.”

The early symptoms of ALS are so slight that they frequently are overlooked and vary from person to person. They can include:

  • Muscle weakness in the hands, arms or legs
  • Weakness in the muscles that control speech, swallowing and breathing
  • Twitching and muscle cramps, especially in the hands and feet
  • Tripping or falling spells
  • Slurred speech
  • Episodes of crying or laughing
  • Difficulty lifting items, buttoning clothes or walking

Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year, making it relatively rare. Most symptoms develop later in adulthood, usually after age 50; however, they can occur in younger people. Over time, weakness and paralysis spread to the torso. This affects the ability to speak, swallow, chew and breathe.

While there is still no cure for ALS, both functionality and survival can be extended through multi-disciplinary care provided from neurologists, respiratory therapists, dietitians, occupational therapists and many other health professionals.

The ALS Multidisciplinary Clinic at Norton Healthcare specializes in the care and treatment of people living with ALS or primary lateral sclerosis (PLS). The clinic is staffed by a team of health care professionals from the ALS Association and Norton Neuroscience Institute. Mark P. Bazant, M.D., a neurologist specializing in ALS, directs the clinic.

“Treatment in a multidisciplinary ALS program has been shown to improve survival,” Dr. Bazant said. “We provide supportive care along with medication. For instance, we look at breathing, swallowing and ability to get adequate nutrition. How well can the person communicate? Even if a person can’t talk, they can still think normally. We can provide simple or high-tech solutions for these issues to help our patients and their families have quality time together.”

To learn more or to schedule an appointment at the clinic, call (502) 899-6782.


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