Evaluation and rehabilitation of patients with adult motor neuron disease

Kathleen Francis, John R. Bach, Joel A. DeLisa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Adult motor neuron disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS]) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by loss of motor neurons in the cortex, brain stem, and spinal cord, manifested by upper and lower motor neuron signs and symptoms affecting bulbar, limb, and respiratory musculature. Clinically, the disease course is characterized by progressive weakness, atrophy, spasticity, dysarthria, dysphagia, and respiratory compromise, ultimately resulting in death or mechanical ventilation in the vast majority of patients. Patterns of presentation and pathological features of the disease, along with clinical and electrophysiologic criteria for diagnosis, are discussed in this review. Since 8% to 22% of patients survive more than 10 years without ventilator use, meticulous medical and rehabilitation management is extremely important to ensure optimal health and quality of life in these patients. Major issues in the care of individuals with ALS include weakness and spasticity, impairments in activities of daily living and mobility, communication deficits and dysphagia in those with bulbar involvement, respiratory compromise, fatigue and sleep disorders, pain, and psychosocial distress. Research in ALS changes rapidly, but is currently focused on potential etiologic factors such as glutamate excitotoxicity, role of oxidative stress, autoimmunity to calcium channels, and cytoskeletal abnormalities, as well as related treatment initiatives including glutamate modulators, neurotrophic factors, antioxidants, antiapoptotic factors, and gene therapy. Recently, mutations in the gene encoding Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase were identified in a subset of familial ALS patients. Riluzole, a glutamate antagonist and Na-channel blocker, became the only drug currently approved for treatment of ALS after studies showed a small positive effect on survival. Until a definitive treatment or cure for ALS is found, the multifaceted rehabilitation team approach remains the best hope for improving health and survival in this devastating illness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)951-963
Number of pages13
JournalArchives of physical medicine and rehabilitation
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation


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