Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, affects approximately 20,000 - 30,000 U.S. citizens, with an estimated 5,000 new diagnoses made each year. ALS is a rapidly progressive neurological disease which attacks neurons responsible for the control of voluntary muscles, and is habitually fatal. ALS is part of the class of disorders called motor neuron diseases (MNDs). Motor neuron diseases are characterized by the gradual degeneration of motor neurons, ultimately leading to the death of affected motor neurons.
Motor neurons are defined as nerve cells located in the central nervous system (CNS) whose axons project outside of the CNS to either directly, or indirectly control muscles. Motor neurons are efferent nerves, which carry signals to muscles from the spinal cord to produce a movement (i.e. contraction). Motor neurons can be categorized as either upper or lower. Upper motor neurons travel down the spinal cord from the CNS, where they synapse with lower motor neurons which travel from the spinal cord to specific motor units in muscle. The degeneration of motor neurons caused by ALS affects both the upper and lower motor neurons, causing the neurons to die or degenerate progressively until they are no longer capable of transmitting messages to the muscle to induce contraction. Atrophy of muscle, along with the development of fasciculations (fine twitches), in subjects with ALS, is attributed with the aforementioned inability to properly function.
Subjects diagnosed with ALS are given a general life expectancy of roughly three to five years, after the onset of symptoms, due to the accelerated deterioration of the body; however, an estimated 10% of individuals with ALS survive for 10 or more years. The disease will advance until, ultimately, all voluntary muscle control is hindered. As control and strength declines, subjects lose their ability to move their limbs and body. Most patients develop respiratory issues due to difficulty chewing and swallowing in conjunction with a loss of diaphragm control. Respiratory issues are very common, and are known to contribute to the low life expectancy of ALS affected persons. Subjects unable to sleep due to weakened diaphragm, or other issues breathing, are generally prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine with face mask. By releasing gusts of compressed air through a hose which is connected to the face mask, a CPAP machine is able to maintaining a continuous air pressure that keeps the upper airway open and allowing movement of fresh air throughout the respiratory system.
Due to ALS being a motor neuron degenerative disease, there is prevalence in motor control dysfunctions mainly; ALS does not affect one’s sense of perceptions, such as; touch (sensation), hearing, sight, smell, or taste. It is also observed that patients suffering from ALS usually maintain extraocular muscle control. Though an individual may require aid in movement to bathroom...