Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease characterized by the progressive loss of the nerve cells that control muscle movement. There is currently no cure for the disease, but there are a number of treatments that can delay the progression of symptoms. Some of these are medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration specifically for ALS, while others are symptomatic treatments. There are also a number of experimental treatments that are currently in development.
Non-drug treatments such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy can help maintain patients’ quality of life, mobility, and ability to communicate with others for as long as possible. Other approaches include diet changes and supplements, acupuncture, and energy healing, but the efficacy of the latter has not been proven.
Physiotherapy helps patients build and maintain muscle strength and may delay disease progression. Physiotherapists work with patients and caregivers to design an exercise regimen to strengthen muscles and ensure patients remain mobile for as long as possible.
The therapist may suggest stretching, range-of-motion, and strengthening exercises to build specific muscle groups to assist with daily tasks. It is important that caregivers also work with the physiotherapist to learn how to assist the patient in performing these exercises.
Occupational therapists work in tandem with physiotherapists to help patients by identifying areas of struggle in their daily lives, such as getting around, dressing, or brushing their teeth.
Occupational therapists can suggest adaptive devices to assist patients and ensure that they are able to use those devices correctly. These therapists may also prescribe aids such as walking canes, wheelchairs, and orthotic braces to help patients maintain mobility. They will also work with caregivers to help them assist the patient in moving or with daily tasks.
Speech therapists help ALS patients maintain the ability to communicate with the people around them, even as the disease progresses and impairs their ability to speak. Patients are taught exercises for the muscles in their face, jaw, and throat to aid in communication.
Speech therapists can also help patients who have difficulty swallowing by recommending adaptive devices and diet changes.
With the aid of speech therapists, ALS patients can communicate at every stage of the disease. This may involve adopting gestures or eye movement-based forms of communication as the disease progresses.
Diet and supplements
Many ALS patients experience malnutrition and weight loss. Proper diet and supplements can treat or prevent malnutrition and may slow weakening of muscles. Some supplements have also been shown to slow disease progression.
Acupuncture is an alternative treatment in which an acupuncturist inserts thin needles at strategic points throughout the body to treat illness or disease.
The goal of acupuncture in ALS is to treat paralysis, reduce the symptoms of the disease, and improve patients’ quality of life.
Energy healing (including spiritual or faith healing) is an alternative, non-medicinal approach to possibly treat diseases and medical conditions, and is favored by some ALS patients. Trained healers work to channel energy through a person’s body so as to slow or reverse disease progression.
Little evidence exists to explain how energy healing works, or to support its effectiveness in treating chronic illnesses. It has never been studied in ALS patients. Randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials in people with asthma, those who have had cardiac bypass surgery, and in wound healing and easing radiation therapy-induced fatigue in breast cancer patients have failed to show any effect on disease progression or symptoms.
ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.