Sunday, February 3, 2008

Doctors, Might Be ALS Even If They're Old...

This week the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the appointment of Dale Bredesen, M.D., to the National Advisory Council on Aging. Dr. Bredesen is not only an expert in issues of aging, but he also has done considerable research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. His dual expertise is a welcome addition in a group that can influence healthcare for the elderly.

Elderly patients with ALS are often misdiagnosed as having the more obvious maladies of aging such as strokes and arthritis. If the ALS diagnosis is made late in the game, the patient has one foot in the grave before learning about ways to help deal with the difficult, short path ahead. If the ALS diagnosis is missed completely, the patient often dies without ever knowing what the problem really was. How many families have buried Grandpa who never got better from his "stroke" or have had a funeral for Grandma who "just wouldn't eat because she kept choking on her food?" How many elderly deaths have attributed to something other than the real culprit -- ALS? How many doctors examine their elderly patients closely enough to recognize ALS when they see it?

ALS occurs in the elderly. It's not just a disease for Lou Gehrig-aged people. In fact, mortality data show that that more females than males die from ALS in the older population. Talk about a crummy glass ceiling to break!

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