When a loved one is diagnosed with Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), it’s natural to wonder how fast the disease will progress and what kind of assistance the patient will require as it develops. ALS is a progressive disease, meaning that it gets worse over time, and it is a neurological condition, characterized by the destruction of the brain cells that are responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement such as walking, talking, chewing, and breathing.
One key point to understanding the is to remember that each case is different. Some patients will move very quickly through the stages, others will progress slowly and have frequent plateaus, and others will experience a combination of the two.
Early Stages of ALS
In the earliest stages, ALS patients typically experience muscle weakness, tightness (spasticity), cramping, twitching, and muscle loss. Sometimes, symptoms will be limited to a particular part of the body—for example, starting with weakness in the hands or twitching in the feet—and patients may experience fatigue, poor balance, slurred speech, or tripping when walking.
In the earliest stages of ALS, patients may start to need assistance with buttoning clothes, opening jars, and other daily tasks that require a strong grip or fine motor control.
Middle Stages of ALS
As ALS progresses, muscle weakness and atrophy spread to other parts of the body, resulting in the paralysis of some muscles and the shortening of others. Some joints (such as the elbows) may no longer be able to straighten and may become painful. This can create problems in walking, swallowing, speaking, and breathing. Some ALS patients experience uncontrollable laughter or crying without cause, called the pseudobulbar affect (PBA).
There will come a point at which it is no longer safe for an ALS patient to live independently. , or in-home help may have to be hired. However, it’s important to remember that even after an ALS patient is no longer able to speak or move, they can still think, feel, and hear just as they used to. Their cognitive abilities are not diminished. They are the same spouse, sibling, and friend they always were.
Late Stages of ALS
Patients in the late stages of ALS are no longer able to care for their own needs. In addition to difficulty speaking, eating and drinking by mouth will no longer be possible. Mobility will be severely limited, and because the ability to breathe is severely compromised, many patients experience fatigue, fuzzy thinking, and headaches, and they are highly susceptible to pneumonia. At this point, ALS patients will require a wheelchair, a feeding tube, and will eventually require a ventilator. Most people with ALS die due to respiratory failure—often, in their sleep.
Managing the Costs of ALS Treatment & Care
Hospice care is available for patients in the late stages of ALS. While Medicare pays for hospice visits, it will not cover long-term care in a nursing home or hospice residential facility, where around-the-clock care is available for ALS patients’ specialized needs.
If your family needs assistance in covering the costs of ALS treatment and care, Fifth Season Financial’s offers the option of accessing funds from your loved one’s life insurance policy. Your loved one will maintain ownership of their policy, and funds will still be there for beneficiaries to receive in the future. If you feel Fifth Season may be able to help your family cover the costs of treatment, contact us today with the form below, or call 866-459-1271 for more information.