ALS is very difficult to diagnose — often taking up to a year from when the first symptoms appear until a definitive diagnosis is reached. Why is diagnosing a person with ALS such a challenging and long process? Here are a few reasons that can contribute to the delay:
But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?
Who keeps your flame?
—Hamilton, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”
I was fortunate to see Hamilton in Chicago in December. (I highly recommend going when it comes to St. Louis this spring.) One of the most moving musical numbers and a personal favorite of mine was the finale, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?” In fact, I become teary-eyed every time I listen to the lyrics, because they are so on-point. I thought I finished telling my family’s journey with ALS, but after watching Hamilton, I realized that I had one final point to make.
FTD (frontotemporal degeneration or frontotemporal dementia) refers to a group of disorders that causes progressive damage to the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain associated with personality, behavior and language. Loss of function in this area of the brain can lead to impulsive behavior and speech difficulties. Usually FTD does not affect the parts of the nervous system that control muscle movement, but about 10-15% of people with FTD also experience motor neuron degeneration called FTD with motor neuron disease (FTD/MND) or FTD with ALS. Over the past 15 years, doctors and scientists’ knowledge of the connection of these diseases has rapidly grown through genetic discovery, brain imaging studies and biomarker studies. Specifically, researchers were able to confirm the connection between FTD and ALS when the TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43) was identified as the central protein in both ALS and the most common type of FTD. Additionally, up to 40% of FTD cases have been found to carry a C9orf72 gene mutation, which is most common in genetic causes of ALS.
In these times we live in — the information age — we have access to more facts and data than ever before, but not everything we read or watch is correct. The Ice Bucket Challenge brought unprecedented awareness to the general public about ALS, but with more exposure also came more misinformation. Below we break down 5 of the most common misunderstood “facts” about ALS.
As one faces a terminal illness, such as ALS, it can be rewarding and fulfilling to review one’s life journey and reminisce about favorite people, experiences, and events, for remembering and reflecting on your life, in order to help you celebrate your successes, cherish your loved ones, and honor your journey. It is also important to reconcile or accommodate difficult or painful memories or events, providing an opportunity to forgive yourself and others if appropriate. Especially during this time of year when we are celebrating holidays and are with family and friends, projects such as the ones below can make very meaningful gifts, not only to those you love, but also as a gift to yourself.
In my first 3 posts, I related my family’s journey with ALS, hoping that other caregivers would connect with some aspects of my experience. Going forward, Caregiver Confidential will be a monthly forum for caregivers to share ideas and the unique experiences and perspectives of caring for a loved one with ALS.
But first, let me describe how my daughter Leah and I coped after my husband Brian passed away in 2010. Although the first year as a widow was a huge life adjustment, I still had a semblance of my pre-ALS life. Leah was living at home, working, and applying to medical school. I enjoyed being part of her journey into medicine, and it kept me mentally occupied. Then the bottom fell out—Leah left to attend medical school in Philadelphia in July 2011, which was a painfully difficult adjustment and the point at which I was forced to confront that I was now alone, as a single person, after a 36-year marriage. Slowly, I have regained my footing, but I also have had considerable time to ruminate about my experience as a caregiver.
During National Family Caregivers Month, we recognize and thank the everyday heroes who devote their time and energy to taking care of a loved one. Millions of people around the country take on the role of caregiver for friends and family members; providing care day and night, on the weekends and even on demand. Many people, especially those that need long-term care, rely on family and friends as their only source of help. While many take this on out of love and receive satisfaction from caregiving, it can take a toll over time and even cause detrimental effects to the caregiver’s health and well-being. It is important for caregivers to make sure they are taking care of themselves, even as they are taking care of others. Below we have compiled a list of resources to help those in our community navigate the world of caregiving:
Morrie Schwartz, a professor emeritus of sociology at Brandeis University, was diagnosed with ALS in the summer of 1994 and passed away in November 1995. He devoted the last year of his life to using his illness to teach others about living and dying. He was an inspiration to friends, students and colleagues—young and old—on dying with dignity. He wrote 75 aphorisms that he called “Reflections on Maintaining One’s Composure While Living With a Fatal Illness”. These aphorisms are the basis of his book, Letting Go (later republished as Morrie: In His Own Words).
Gina Baldwin is a licensed Speech Pathologist with over 30 years of experience in the field. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Language Pathology and a Master of Science degree in Speech Language Pathology from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, IL. Strongly motivated to make a difference in people’s lives, she currently devotes the majority of her professional time to providing speech therapy services in healthcare facilities and in home health environments. We are excited to welcome her as a guest blogger to ALS Connect.
As a Speech Language Pathologist, I have experienced the joy of my patients’ successes as well as my share of frustration that I could not help them achieve more. I recognized a major gap in communication when I was providing speech therapy to a 68 year-old speech-impaired patient. She and her family became frustrated while trying to communicate using Skype. My patient tried to position her picture communication board toward the camera and pointed to pictures. Her family could not see what she was pointing to and there was silence. The picture communication board did not have speech output. I stood there and watched my patient become annoyed and I experienced it too.
As we officially enter into September, we can’t help but look back at this month and compare it to August 2014. This August was a busy month filled with events, not unlike past Augusts. While our social media pages were less inundated with videos of people taking the challenge, many families are still feeling the impact of this viral sensation. We continue to hear stories of what this means to people even three years later. Sabrina Jones is one such person and here she reflects on where she was in August 2014 and the journey her family has been on since.