The terms Motor Neuron Disease and ALS are often used interchangeably. In reality, however, MND is the generic term for many different types of neurological disorders with ALS being one of them. Regardless of what you call it, proper home care for the patient is of utmost importance.
Motor Neuron Disease (MND)
In general, all of the diseases that fall under the MND label, attack the motor neurons. These neurons play a major role in the control of speaking, swallowing, breathing, and walking. The upper motor neurons, found in the brain, send messages to the lower motor neurons, in the spinal cord, and then finally to specific muscles.
When these neurons are not working properly, the messages are not sent, and the muscles cannot function. The lower motor neurons control the movement in the face, throat, tongue, legs, arms, and chest while the upper neurons control chewing and walking. It is unclear what causes most motor neuron diseases, although 10% of cases are thought to be inherited.
There are various types of MNDs, all of which play havoc with motor function. These diseases include Primary Lateral Sclerosis (PLS), Pseudobulbar Palsy, Progressive Bulbar Palsy, and — the most prevalent of all MNDs, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
ALS – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is one of the most serious types of motor neuron diseases. Both the upper and lower motor neurons are affected, leading to the ultimate failure of all voluntary muscles. Initial signs of ALS include weakness in the muscles that control swallowing, chewing, and speech. Over time, there is a weakening in the muscles that are used to move the arms, legs, and to hold the body upright.
This muscular weakness occurs on both sides of the body. Finally, the muscles that control breathing become so weak that those afflicted lose the ability to breathe on their own. At this stage, mechanical support may be needed.
Motor Neuron Disease and In-Home Care
Ensuring that a loved one with ALS receives the proper home health care is critically important. While there is no cure for ALS, with the right MND care, adults with this disorder can be kept as comfortable as possible.
Nutrition is important for those with MNDs, especially as the failure of the muscles needed to swallow may impact the ability to maintain a proper weight. The ALS Association recommends that you should encourage your elderly loved one to eat for enjoyment and weight management. Protein shakes can add calories if needed.
Bowel functions are not typically an issue for patients, but getting in and out of the bathroom can be a problem. Installing an elevated seat and handrails can help to make the process easier.
Physical therapy can also help your loved one maintain mobility for a longer period. Have their therapist teach you some of the stretches and motion exercises, so you can help your loved one with them at home.
While the diagnosis of a MND can be life-altering, providing the necessary home care can help your loved one obtain a better quality of life for a longer period.