Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

A. Definition

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive, invariably fatal, neurodegenerative disease that attacks the nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord. Amyotrophic comes from the Greek language and means “no muscle nourishment.” When a muscle has no nourishment, it wastes away. “Lateral” identifies the areas in your spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates, it leads to scarring or hardening (“sclerosis”) in the region.

B. General information

ALS was identified in 1869 by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, but it wasn’t until 1939 that professional baseball player, Lou Gehrig, brought international attention to the disease. Ending his career and ultimately his life at the age of 37, ALS is still closely associated with his name.

ALS causes the death of motor neurons that reach from the brain to the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. When the motor neurons die, the brain’s ability to control muscle movement is lost. Patients in the later stage of the disease may become totally paralyzed. However, cognitive ability generally remains and the muscles of the eyes are unaffected.

The onset of ALS is gradual with muscle weakness or stiffness as early symptoms. Sometimes symptoms are so subtle, they are overlooked. As the disease progresses, the gradual weakness and paralysis of muscles that control speech, swallowing, and breathing follow. Most patients die within 3 to 4 years from respiratory failure.

Although anyone can be affected by ALS, 60% of patients are men, and 93% are Caucasian. Most people who develop the disease are between the ages of 40 and 70, with an average age of 55 at the time of the diagnosis.

There currently is no cure for ALS; most treatments are designed only to relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life.

C. Social Security Administration Medical Listing 11.10 – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

ALS is listed under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Compassionate Allowance Program, which was launched in 2008 to expedite certain disability claims. Applying for disability benefits under the Compassionate Allowance Program requires the same procedure every applicant must follow when applying for SSA disability benefits; however, you will be notified if your condition is being considered as a compassionate allowance.

There is no single test to identify the presence of ALS. For purposes of SSA Medical Listing 11.10, in addition to the documentation of your diagnosis, you will need clinically appropriate medical history, neurological findings consistent with your diagnosis, and the results of any electrophysiological and neuroimaging testing.

Your representative may be able to assist in expediting your claim if you have a diagnosis of ALS.