Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive brain disease that attacks the nerve cells that control muscles (motor neurons). It results in the gradual degeneration and death of motor neurons that are located in the brain, brainstem, and spinal cord. When these neurons die, the brain can no longer start or control muscle movements. Consequently, the muscles gradually waste away (atrophy). When the motor neurons in the brainstem are affected (bulbar ALS), the muscles used in speech and swallowing are impaired.

  • ALS only affects muscles that are moved voluntarily (such as those in the mouth or arm) and does not impact those muscles involved in involuntary movements, such as digestion. Because ALS affects only the motor neurons, it does not significantly impair a person’s mind. Personality, intelligence, memory, and self-awareness remain the same. The senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste remain intact as well.

ALS is progressive, meaning that the symptoms gradually worsen over time. The rate of disease progression varies extensively from person to person. The average lifespan of the individual after diagnosis has been reported to be 2 to 5 years.

Dementia: Dementia is a group of symptoms related to memory loss and overall cognitive impairment.  Most types of dementias continue to worsen and are usually irreversible.  Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and well-studied cause of dementia, affecting up to 70% of those diagnosed with dementia.  People with dementia often need help taking care of themselves.  They may have difficulty communicating with others.  Everyday activities, such as grooming, preparing meals, and driving, may become difficult.

Huntington’s Disease (HD): Huntington’s Disease (HD) is an inherited disorder marked by progressive degeneration of brain cells.  Most individuals with Huntington’s disease develop some signs and symptoms in their 30s or 40s.

Laryngeal Cancer: Laryngeal cancer occurs when cancerous (malignant) cells form on the tissues of the larynx, or voice box.  The larynx contains the vocal folds.  The vocal folds vibrate.  This makes sounds when air is directed against them.  A person’s voice is heard when this sound echoes through the throat, mouth, and nose.  

Oral Cancer: Oral cancer is a malignant growth that affects any part of the oral cavity, including the lips, upper or lower jaw, tongue, gums, cheeks, and throat.

Right Hemisphere Brain Injury: Right hemisphere brain damage (RHD) is damage to the right side of the brain.  The brain is made up of two sides or hemispheres.  Each hemisphere is responsible for different body functions and skills.  In most people, the left side of the brain contains the person’s language functions.  The right side contributes to a number of functions, such as attention, memory reasoning, and problem solving (all of which contribute to effective communication).  Damage to the right hemisphere of the brain may lead to disruption of these cognitive processes, resulting in unique cognitive and communication problems.  In many cases, the person with right brain damage is not aware of the problems that he or she is experiencing (anosognosia).

Stroke (Cerebral Vascular Accident/CVA): stroke is when a clogged or burst artery interrupts blood flow to the brain. This interruption of blood flow deprives the brain of needed oxygen and causes the affected brain cells to die. When brain cells die, the functioning of the body parts that they control is impaired or lost. A stroke can cause paralysis or muscle weakness, loss of feeling, speech and language problems, memory and reasoning problems, swallowing difficulties, problems of vision and visual perception, coma, and even death.

Traumatic Brain Injury: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a form of brain injury caused by sudden damage to the brain. Depending on the source of the trauma, TBIs can be either open or closed head injuries.

  • Open Head Injuries: Also called penetrating Injuries, these injuries occur when an object (e.g., a bullet) enters the brain and causes damage to specific brain parts. Symptoms vary depending on the part of the brain that is damaged.
  • Closed Head Injuries:These injuries result from a blow to the head (e.g., when the head strikes the windshield or dashboard in a car accident).

Irrespective of the cause of the trauma, TBIs result in two types of damage to the brain:

  • primary brain damage, which is damage that occurs at the time of impact (e.g., skull fracture, bleeding, blood clots),
  • secondary brain damage, which is damage that evolves over time after the trauma (e.g., increased blood pressure within the skull, seizures, brain swelling).