Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is the most common motor neuron disease, leading to progressive paralysis, dysarthria, dysphagia, and respiratory disabilities. Therapy is mostly focused on palliative interventions. During the course of the disease, verbal as well as nonverbal communicative abilities become more and more impaired. In this light, communication has been argued to be "the essence of human life" and crucial for patients' quality of life. High-tech augmentative and alternative communication (HT-AAC) technologies such as eyetracking based computer devices and brain-computer-interfaces provide the possibility to maintain caregiver-independent communication and environmental control even in the advanced disease state of ALS. Thus, they enable patients to preserve social participation and to independently communicate end-of-life-decisions. In accordance with these functions of HT-AAC, their use is reported to strengthen self-determination, increase patients' quality of life and reduce caregiver burden. Therefore, HT-AAC should be considered as standard of (palliative) care for people with ALS. On the other hand, the supply with individually tailored HT-AAC technologies is limited by external and patient-inherent variables. This review aims to provide an overview of the possibilities and limitations of HT-AAC technologies and discuss their role in the palliative care for patients with ALS.
Objective: Quantitative analysis of decision-making on therapeutic options in different sociocultural context in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Methods: ALS patients (n = 244) were consecutively recruited in Germany (n = 83), Poland (n = 83), and Sweden (n = 78) in a prospective cross-cultural study (www.NEEDSinALS.com). They were interviewed on preferences for therapeutic techniques including invasive (IV) and non-invasive ventilation (NIV), as well as percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) and on hypothetical termination of these using quantitative questions. Using standardized questionnaires, religiousness, personal values, quality of life, and depressiveness were assessed.
Results: NIV was most frequently used in Germany and PEG in Sweden. Swedish patients were most liberal on initiation and termination of PEG, NIV and IV. Polish patients were mostly undecided and were least likely to consider discontinuing supportive management. Current use was partly associated with age, gender and state of physical function; also, financial support explained some variance. Future preferences on therapeutic options from the patient’s perspective were also closely associated with cultural factors. The more oriented towards traditional and conservative values, the less likely patients were to decide for invasive therapeutic devices (IV, PEG), the least likely to have ideations to discontinue any device and the more likely to have an undecided attitude.
Conclusions: Current use of therapeutic options is determined by medical condition in analogy to clinical guidelines. For future considerations, other factors such as cultural background are crucial, yielding hurdles to be regarded in the implementation of advanced directives in a multicultural environment.