Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS, MND and Lou Gehrig's disease, is a neurological disease that attacks the motor neurons responsible for the use of voluntary muscles. ALS typically progresses rapidly, causing severe weakness that can develop into complete immobility. Along the way, speech impairment may develop into an inability to communicate effectively.
While the symptoms of ALS are overwhelming and place enormous pressure on patients - as well as their families and caregivers - technology is helping many with ALS communicate effectively, and live more comfortably and independently.
In the early stages of ALS, individuals may experience a weaker voice or slurred speech, and as the disease progresses, muscle atrophy can make it increasingly harder to communicate. This may be difficult to adjust to and can take an emotional toll, but the right technology can help support functional communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) can help individuals with ALS express their needs, wants, and ideas. AAC methods, ranging from simple paper and pencil to symbol boards and electronic voice output devices, can see ALS patients through communication setbacks at all stages of the disease's progress.
It's often difficult for ALS patients to remain in control of everyday actions, which can be demoralizing. Things we take for granted, for instance flipping a light switch, become impossible. Environmental Control Units (ECUs) can be very helpful in maintaining a patient's sense of autonomy. With these remote-control devices, people in advanced stages of ALS can control lights, air conditioning, television, and other household appliances. ECUs, which can be activated by voice, your eyes or by switches, also reduce demands on caretakers. With the ability to initiate phone calls, open and close doors, or simply adjust a bed, these devices lessen stress for individuals with ALS and those around them.
Most ALS patients suffer no intellectual impairment even as they lose their ability to move and speak. Being unable to communicate can make them feel trapped inside their bodies. Fortunately, technology can help ALS patients express their ideas and dreams despite these overwhelming challenges. Many individuals with ALS have gone on to paint, write autobiographies, become public speakers, and inspire their communities.
Staying Connected and employed
We all know how access to the internet can expand our horizons and help us connect with others. ALS patients are no different. Thanks to technological advances such as gaze interaction, an eye-tracking technology, people with ALS can find comfort, enrichment, and fulfillment with full control of their computers and access to the internet. They can advance their educations, find online support groups, and keep in touch with family and friends via email or social media - maintaining their autonomy and limiting isolation.