ALS occupational therapy activity

Occupational Therapy for ALS Patients

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a debilitating and ultimately fatal neurodegenerative disease that affects some 450,000 people around the world today, according to available statistics. It’s a disease that affects the body’s neurons, gradually damaging and destroying them.

The overall prognosis for ALS is poor with around half of diagnosed patients not living beyond three years. Only about 10% of individuals will live beyond 10 years.

Whilst there is no cure for ALS, there are some therapies that can help manage the condition and improve the quality of life for those individuals who have been diagnosed.

Here we take a closer look at how occupational therapy for ALS  patients can make a huge difference and have several beneficial effects.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a branch of healthcare that works to help individuals cope with daily living. Therapists are found in many different aspects of society including hospital environments and schools and their focus is purely on making life easier.

An example would be helping someone to cope at home following a stroke. This individual may have limited movement or dexterity. They may require changes to their home and assistive devices that enable them to live independently.

The occupational therapist helps to put these measures in place and works with the individual to solve any daily living problems that might arise. To do this, they need to get to know the person well and find out what they are capable of doing and what areas of their life require help.

The Role of Occupational Therapy for ALS Patients

ALS is a progressive disease that gradually destroys neurons in the body. In the early stages of the disease, this might mean struggling with something as simple as trying to button up a shirt or put on a pair of shoes. Later on, as the condition worsens, there may be issues surrounding nutrition and feeding as well as breathing.

Working with an occupational therapist, ALS patients may be able to improve their condition through good nutrition and exercise choices, for example, or utilize specialist assistive technology that helps maintain independence.

The role of the occupational therapist will change as the condition develops and more assistive measures need to be considered.

Benefits of Occupational Therapy for ALS Patients

There are numerous benefits in setting occupational therapy goals for ALS patients from the outset. Whilst it is undoubtedly traumatic to be diagnosed with this disease, taking control and managing what the future may hold can help empower the individual and give them a more positive outlook.

Most people with a serious health condition benefit from being able to stay in their own home. The fact that an occupational therapist works with the individual to assist in daily living and independence means this is possible, even as this disease progresses.

They can help in a number of ways:

Aids and Adaptations:

Woman with ALS opening a jar with kitchen aid
Kitchen aids can help with tasks such as opening jars

One of the first things that an occupational therapist will help with is determining the right assistive techniques for the individual. There are many such devices that assist people with getting dressed, pulling on socks, showering and the like.

This area also includes making adjustments to the home such as improving access if a wheelchair is to be used.

Exercise and Diet:

It shouldn’t be underestimated how diet choices and exercise can help with ALS, particularly in the initial stages. This intervention will concentrate on muscles, for example, that are still not affected by the disease, ensuring they are kept in good condition for as long as possible as a way of improving mobility.

Educating Caregivers:

Occupational therapy consultation with ALS patient
Occupational therapy consultation

As the disease progresses, family members and other caregivers may well be used to support the individual with ALS. The occupational therapist can act as a link providing insight and education for these helpers.

Examples of Occupational Therapy Activities for ALS Patients

ALS occupational therapy treatment guidelines cover almost every aspect of daily living and there’s a solution for practically everything:

  • Standing in front of a sink and simply having a wash can be demanding for those with ALS. A simple occupational therapy solution might be to sit on a special chair or have a lower sink where a wheelchair can be used.
  • Shaving may be a problem because of weak hands and arms. Switching to an electric razor might be the solution.
  • In the later stages of ALS, trouble with getting the attention of a caregiver may be overcome by introducing an intercom service or using digital assistive technology such as a mobile app.
  • Getting into or out of bed can be challenging if there is no one around to help but there are a range of lifts and leg supports that can be utilized.
  • Eating might be difficult with loss of motility in the hands so utensils with thick, bendy shafts may make a difference.

Increased Independence

There is no doubt that being diagnosed with ALS comes with significant challenges. Occupational therapy, however, will help individuals not only come to terms with their condition but manage themselves better for a more independent life.