Exploring ALS beyond the Ice Bucket Challenge

Monday, September 1, 2014
In efforts to raise awareness on ALS, the staff of the Purdue Extension-Putnam County office participates in the Ice Bucket Challenge as Jennifer Cannon douses 4-H Youth Educator Mark Evans. (courtesy photo)

Many people across the world have seen and/or participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge. This challenge involves people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting that video to social media, then nominating others to do the same, all in an effort to raise ALS awareness.

People accept the challenge and make a donation to an ALS Charity of their choice. ALS Association reports this challenge is a creative way to spread ALS awareness via social media and in communities. Researchers have shown the Ice Bucket Challenge has increased awareness about ALS, so let's explore the disease behind the challenge.

Based on U.S. population studies, a little over 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. (That's 15 new cases a day.) It is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time.

According to the ALS CARE Database, 60 percent of the people with ALS in the database are men and 93 percent of patients in the database are Caucasian" (ALS Association, 2010).

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease," is a progressive disease that attacks the nerve cells that control voluntary movement. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. As motor neurons degenerate, they can no longer send impulses to the muscle fibers that normally result in muscle movement.

Research has shown most people develop ALS between 40 and 70 years of age. The average age of onset is 55 years of age. However, there are cases of onset within people in their 20s through 30s. ALS is commonly found in men versus women.

Research has shown half of all people affected with ALS live at least three or more years after diagnosis. Twenty percent live five years or more; up to 10 percent will live more than 10 years (ALS Association, 2010).

Diagnosis of ALS is difficult. There is no specific test and/or procedure to identify a diagnosis of ALS.

At the onset of ALS the symptoms may be so slight that they are frequently overlooked. The course of the disease may include:

* Muscle weakness in one or more of the following: hands, arms, legs or the muscles of speech.

swallowing or breathing.

* Twitching (fasciculation) and cramping of muscles, especially those in the hands and feet.

* Impairment of the use of the arms and legs.

* "Thick speech" and difficulty in projecting the voice.

* In more advanced stages, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and swallowing.

In efforts to raise awareness on ALS, Purdue Extension-Putnam County has participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Visit our homepage at www.extension.purdue.edu/putnam or you can contact the local Purdue Extension Office by calling 653-8411 for more information regarding this week's column topic or to RSVP for upcoming events. It is always best to call first to assure items are ready when you arrive and to RSVP for programs. While many publications are free, some do have a fee.

Upcoming events

Sept. 2 -- 4-H Council meeting, Extension Office, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 8 - Antique/Collectible Club, Putnam County Museum, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 9 - Indiana Extension Homemakers leader lesson, Extension Office, 1 p.m.

Sept. 18 -- Robotics Encounter registration due.

Sept. 22 -- Putnam County Fair and 4-H Club Association annual meeting, Fairgrounds, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 25 -- Extension Board meeting, Extension Office, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 27 -- Robotics Encounter, Scottsburg.

Oct. 29 -- Extension annual meeting, Fairgrounds, 6:30 p.m.

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