What does ALS feel like?

Let me see if I can put it into words and help you understand or experience a taste of ALS.

Hands: have you ever carried a heavy item and when you put it down your fingers won’t move, they are stiff. After a moment they return to normal. Well for me they don’t, they remain stiff and unresponsive. They are also very weak, can’t grasp or lift a tissue.

Legs: when they aren’t cramping they are weak and while walking (very short distances) they don’t respond to my desired requests. They actually feel as though I have 100 pound ankle weights strapped to each leg. My knees and ankles give out from time to time risking a fall.

Eating: first off it is unavoidable that ALS takes the ability to swallow, however it begins with the tongue. You see the tongue becomes unresponsive and difficult to control. At this point imagine getting anesthesia in your mouth and your tongue is affected. In essence manipulation of food is challenging. This makes it difficult to move food away from the back of your throat causing frequent gagging. Now the epiglotis, the flap that separates your airway from your esophagus, well it starts to falter, allowing food to remain at the opening. This causes repeated swallowing and can lead to coughing and choking.

Laryngeal spasms: has your dog ever sounded like they are about to hack up a furr ball? Thats a spasm, in a person it sounds very scary. Imagine getting the wind knocked out of you, when you try and take a breath you cant… thats what it sounds like.

Neck: many ALS patients lose muscle strength and tone in the neck as it progresses, thus needing neck braces or head restraints. Imagin having a 50 pound weight on your head, eventually you can’t hold your head up. Many patients appear to be looking down constantly. Some become locked in this position.

Breathing, try this at home:

(Gather the following)
A large shake straw, regular straw and a coffee stirrer.
Now try this, take a normal healthy breath, now repeat breathing through each straw. You have just simulated progressive respiratory decline in an ALS patient.

Now don’t panic and catch your breath.

Last exercise: now find a a busy location in your home, sit in a chair and don’t move or speak. Think of your favorite drink or snack. Now without speaking or moving communicate to your family that you would like that drink or snack. You want to get the real experience, try using a patient’s eyegaze computer, let’s time how long it takes to get frustrated?

This is what ALS feels like. Let me know how it felt for you.


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