What is ALS?

Most people wouldn't willingly dump a bucket of ice over their heads. Yet in the last couple of months, various social media channels have been inundated with videos of people of all ages and walks of life doing just that. The reason? To help raise money for ALS research.

ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis which is the name given to a degenerative and terminal disease that frequently robs sufferers of their ability to move, talk, chew, swallow and breathe. Thanks to the efforts of more than 3 million donors who have taken the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, to date $114 million has been raised to help fund ALS research.

With no identified cause, effective treatment or cure; the lives of individuals who are diagnosed with ALS are cut tragically short. ALS most readily impacts individuals between the ages of 40 to 70 with early symptoms like unexplained muscle weakness and cramping in the muscles of the hands and feet.

The disease results in the degeneration of motor neurons which adversely impacts muscles throughout the body, causing them to atrophy. The lack of motor neurons also prevents nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord from sending signals to muscles throughout the body, thereby inhibiting control and movement. Eventually many individuals with ALS are fully paralyzed.

An estimated 30,000 Americans are currently living with ALS and, for unknown reasons, men are 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ALS. Scientists have yet to determine the cause of the disease, but believe both genetics and environmental factors play a role in its development.

ALS is included on the Social Security Administration's list of qualifying impairments for the Social Security Disability Insurance program. Due to the debilitating nature of ALS, those affected are eventually unable to work and SSDI benefits can help provide much-needed monthly income.

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