Guest Post by Sarah Martin
My name is Sarah Martin. I am a junior neuroscience major at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. When I was 14 years old and a sophomore at the Illinois Mathematics
and Science Academy, my principal and close friend, Dr. Eric McLaren, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that
affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Since his diagnosis, I have been
passionate about fighting ALS. I conduct research at universities in the Midwest, attend support groups in the Chicagoland area to meet pALS and their families, blog about my journey to a cure for the disease, speak at schools about ALS and so much more! Dr.
McLaren passed away from ALS in June of 2014, but I have made it my life’s mission to
put an end to this disease. My future plans include earning a doctorate degree,
becoming an ALS researcher, and helping develop an effective treatment for ALS.
The most important part of my ALS work is the people with ALS (pALS). During my time
at ALS support groups, I have learned that because the disease is characterized by
muscle weakness and atrophy, there are a handful of challenges pALS may face in
regards to eating. Difficulties with upper body coordination may make it difficult to
prepare meals. Weakness of tongue and facial muscles may not only make it tough to
safely chew and swallow food, but can also prolong mealtimes. In addition, aspiration of
solids or liquids into the lungs can result in aspiration pneumonia. pALS may experience
a loss of appetite and fatigue which can make eating a difficult task. As ALS progresses
in a person, the amount of calories consumed typically decreases.
Proper nutrition is vital. The human body requires various nutrients to function. Due to
decreased food intake in ALS, it can be difficult to maintain nutritional needs, but there
are nutritionists, dietitians and other experts working to improve the nutritional status of
pALS. In order to maintain the nutritional needs of pALS, tips for safer chewing and
swallowing techniques can be utilized, such as taking smaller bites, eating slowly and
sitting in an upright position while eating. Healthcare professionals can also assist in
making decisions regarding alternate feeding options, such as a feeding tube.
Maintaining the nutritional needs of pALS is important as it can help slow down the
muscle breakdown process and prevent a decrease in weight loss (nutrition-related). It
can also help keep the immune system strong and improve the quality of life for those
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