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.
Let us delve into the benefits of physical therapy and occupational therapy for ALS patients. We will explore their roles in alleviating symptoms, maintaining functional independence, and promoting overall well-being.
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.
Occupational Therapy Interventions for ALS
Occupational therapy interventions for ALS focus on improving daily functioning. Occupational therapists (OTs) work closely with patients to identify personalized goals and customize interventions to address these specific needs.
At Plexus Bangalore and Hyderabad, our OTs are trained to address the specific needs of individual patients through a patient-centered approach that enhances functionality and promotes a higher quality of life.
Below are a few examples of occupational therapy interventions we employ at Plexus that can benefit ALS patients:
After assessing the patient’s home environment, our OTs recommend adaptive equipment to facilitate independence. Some examples of adaptive equipment are mobility aids, assistive devices for eating and dressing, and mechanized modifications to the living space.
Energy Conservation Techniques
Fatigue in ALS can be debilitating. This is why our OTs focus on educating patients on the efficient ways to conserve energy, and optimizing their ability to engage in purposeful activities throughout the day.
Joint Protection Techniques
Muscle weakness is another typical sign of ALS. As the disease advances, joints become more susceptible to strain. Our OTs implement joint protection techniques to minimize stress on the joints. This improves everyday functionality, and also reduces the risk of injury and discomfort.
Modification of Activities
Our OTs encourage ALS patients to modify activities based on their changing abilities. Some of these modifications include breaking down activities into smaller (manageable) steps, using adaptive techniques, and working with alternative methods to accomplish daily goals.
Benefits of Occupational Therapy for 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 OT will contribute in the following ways:
Through adaptive strategies and task/activity modification, occupational therapy empowers ALS patients to be independent in their daily lives. This can boost a sense of control and autonomy, especially in the advanced stages of the disease.
Improved Quality of Life
OTs identify purposeful activities and develop strategies to help patients engage in them. This enhances the quality of life, and also contributes to a sense of purpose and satisfaction.
Living with ALS is more often than not emotionally challenging. OTs offer valuable emotional support, by helping patients cope with the psychological impact of the disease, as well as facilitating the development of effective coping mechanisms.
Note: 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.
Physical Therapy for ALS Patients
Physical Therapy, or physiotherapy, is a cornerstone in the comprehensive care of ALS patients. It focuses on preserving mobility, preventing further complications, as well as optimizing overall physical function.
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.
ALS Physical Therapy Treatment
At Plexus Bangalore and Hyderabad, our physical therapy exercises for ALS are designed keeping in mind the progressive muscle weakness and loss of motor function associated with the disease. These programs typically include the following exercises for ALS patients:
Range of Motion Exercises
Our physical therapists prescribe targeted exercises to maintain joint flexibility and prevent contractures. Regular range of motion exercises have also been known to slow down the progression of muscle tightness.
Targeted strengthening exercises help slow down the decline in muscle function. Our physical therapists focus on preserving strength in key muscle groups, customized to the patient’s abilities.
Respiratory muscle weakness is a common symptom and concern in ALS. Our physical therapists work towards improving respiratory function, enhancing lung capacity, and potentially delaying the onset of respiratory complications.
Balance and Coordination Training
Impaired balance and coordination, as well as an increased risk of falls are classic symptoms of ALS. Our physical therapists recommend specific exercises to enhance stability, balance, and coordination. These exercises also reduce the likelihood of injuries.
Benefits of Physical Therapy for ALS Patients
The following are the benefits of physical therapy for ALS patients:
- Prolonged independence
- Improved symptom management
- Delayed functional decline
Integration of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy for ALS
The integration of occupational therapy and physical therapy can greatly improve the patient’s independence, offer them a better quality of life, and enable them to do more on their own. A holistic treatment plan can address both the functional and emotional aspects of the disease.
At Plexus, our occupational therapists and physical therapists work together to align treatment goals with the patient’s aspirations and priorities. It is this collaborative goal-setting approach that has helped us enhance the effectiveness of ALS interventions, as well as continuously adapt our treatment plan.
Reach out to our team to know more about our customized ALS rehabilitation programs.
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What is the best therapy for ALS patients?
The best treatment program for ALS is a multidisciplinary approach involving physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. At Plexus, we also offer regenerative rehabilitation that involves stem cell therapy to manage symptoms, maintain function, and enhance quality of life for ALS patients.
What are the 7 stages of ALS?
ALS progression is typically categorized into seven stages, ranging from early symptoms to advanced mobility and respiratory challenges. You can read more about the 7 stages of ALS here.
What are warning signs of ALS?
Muscle weakness, twitching, difficulty speaking or swallowing, and muscle cramps are some of the most common warning signs of ALS.