Stephen Hawking and ALS: Survivability is improving with medical advancements

Team approach to care, provided by neurologists, respiratory therapists, dietitians, occupational therapists and other health professionals, can extend functionality and survival.

While cosmologist Stephen Hawking’s life was notable for many reasons, his death brought into focus his 1963 diagnosis with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Hawking was expected to live two years.

Of course he went on to live more than 50 years, dying at age 76, recording advancements in our understanding of black holes and the cosmos along the way.

Sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is relatively rare. About 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. It’s a progressive disease that causes the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to die, losing their connections to muscles throughout the body.

Most symptoms develop later in adulthood, usually after age 50; however, they do occur in younger people. The location of symptoms differs from person to person. With time it affects the ability to speak, swallow, chew and breathe.

Extending functionality and survival for ALS patients

There is no cure for ALS. Multidisciplinary care provided by a team that includes neurologists, respiratory therapists, dietitians, occupational therapists and other health professionals can extend functionality and survival.

Norton Healthcare’s ALS Multidisciplinary Clinic  specializes in the care and treatment of people living with ALS or primary lateral sclerosis (PLS). The clinic is staffed by a team of health care professionals from the ALS Association and Norton Neuroscience Institute. Mark P. Bazant, M.D., a neurologist specializing in ALS, directs the clinic.

“Treatment in a multidisciplinary ALS program has been shown to improve survival,” Dr. Bazant said. “We provide supportive care along with medication. For instance, we look at breathing, swallowing and ability to get adequate nutrition. How well can the person communicate? Even if a person can’t talk, they can still think normally. We can provide simple or high-tech solutions for these issues to help our patients and their families have quality time together.”

ALS Multidisciplinary Clinic

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