Being diagnosed with ALS is a challenging moment for both the patient and their family. A progressive neurodegenerative condition, ALS affects the nerves that control voluntary muscle movement and consequently, erodes the patient’s ability to move, speak, and even breathe over time. In this context, embarking on a treatment program immediately after diagnosis is critical to preserve functionality and reduce the patient’s physical and mental discomfort. Here, we take a closer look at how ALS patients can benefit from Physical and Occupational Therapy.
ALS is one among a group of conditions known as motor neuron diseases. Motor neuron diseases are neurodegenerative disorders that selectively affect motor neurons – the cells that control all the voluntary muscles of the body. As the name suggests, voluntary muscles are responsible for performing voluntary movements.
Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis incapacitates the patient’s brain to send messages to the muscles, causing them to weaken and eventually die. ALS is inherited in about 5-10% of patients, while the causes behind the remaining cases are unknown. There is no cure for the disease, although treatment can slow down progression and improve functionality.
How Occupational Therapy can help patients with ALS
As ALS progresses and muscle degeneration accelerates, it becomes harder for the patient to accomplish everyday tasks on their own. Occupational Therapy helps to improve quality of life and retain as much independence as possible. Typically, the Occupational Therapist will contribute in the following ways:
- They will first observe the patient’s home and work environment, to get a clear understanding of the need, in terms of therapy.
- They will work with the patient and their caregivers on the best adjustments to aid mobility, such as by adding grab rails around the house for safer movement, or suggesting devices to help with feeding.
- They will teach the patient energy conservation techniques to help them overcome excessive fatigue, while completing daily tasks. This also allows for more clarity on which tasks a caregiver can help the patient with.
- They will provide long-term assistive devices to meet the future needs of patients, ridding them of the pain of repeatedly purchasing new devices and learning how to use them.
In the context of using aids and assistive devices in Occupational Therapy, it is important to include the patient in the decision-making process. Many people feel conscious about being unable to do simple things on their own and may resist an assistive device. Given their preferences, patients are more likely to feel comfortable and gain control over their treatment.
How Physical Therapy can help
Physical Therapy is essential for patients with ALS to help reduce the pace of muscle deterioration. The right exercises will help retain muscle functionality for longer, and also make it easier to use assistive devices. This happens by strengthening the muscles that have not yet been affected by ALS, enabling them to support weaker muscles and optimize overall function. The physiotherapist will recommend a tailored exercise program for each patient based on how their condition is progressing and the kind of aids used. Stretching, strengthening, and pain-reduction are some of the treatment priorities that a physiotherapist may focus on. Furthermore, low-impact exercises like walking, biking, or swimming have multiple benefits such as improving energy levels and cardiovascular health.
For a patient with ALS, the constant struggle to complete daily tasks can be demotivating and frustrating. Occupational and Physical Therapy can help improve the patient’s independence, offering them a better quality of life by enabling them to do more on their own. It is, thus, crucial to sign up for Occupational Therapy in Bangalore immediately after an ALS diagnosis to reap the benefits.