7 Things to Keep in Mind If a Loved One Has ALS

Wendy Henderson avatar

by Wendy Henderson |

Share this article:

Share article via email

An amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) diagnosis can be devastating for both the patient and their family. If a loved one has recently been diagnosed with ALS, they’ll need your support now more than ever. Remember to be understanding and patient.

We’ve put together a list of things to consider if a someone close to you has been diagnosed with ALS, with help from lifehack.com.

MORE: Understanding the progression of ALS.

It’s not an immediate death sentence. 
While many ALS patients die within three to five years, others live for 10 or 15 years after diagnosis. Stephen Hawking is still famously alive at the age of 75 after being diagnosed as a college student. Focus on making memories and cherishing the time you have together.

They’ll need help. 
The amount of assistance they need will continue to grow as the disease progresses, but it’s essential that you allow your loved one to keep as much of their independence as possible, for as long as possible. Ask if they need help rather than assume they can’t do things.

They may experience uncontrolled bouts of laughter or crying. 
This is a phenomenon of ALS called pseudobulbar affect which is possibly caused by an interruption of brain signals in the upper neurons. It’s not connected to mood, so they are not laughing or crying because they are happy or sad. Pseudobulbar affect can be treated with medication.

MORE: Four tips for taking care of caregivers. 

They are not affected mentally. 
ALS very rarely affects a person’s intellect. Over time they’ll lose the ability to speak but their cognitive functions remain untouched.

They’re not deaf. 
There’s no need to shout. Their hearing will be as good as it was before they starting experiencing symptoms of the disease. Although communication will pose problems, they will be able to process what you’re saying without you talking extra slowly or loudly.

They can be sexual active. 
ALS patients can be sexually active, particularly in the earlier stages of the disease. As the disease progresses, sexual activity may present problems due to muscle wastage, fatigue, respiratory problems, joint pain and side effects of medication (source: Massachusetts General Hospital).

They’re still the same person. 
ALS may have changed their bodies and how it functions, but it hasn’t changed their personalities. They’ll enjoy doing the same things, laughing at the same jokes, they’ll like and dislike the same foods. They are the same person they always were.

MORE: How to support someone diagnosed with a terminal illness.

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 another 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.