Why We Welcome the Ice Bucket Challenge

Have you poured a bucketful of ice and cold water all over you yet?  Even if you haven’t, chances are that you have seen numerous people take the Ice Bucket Challenge. Some shiver and shriek, (and maybe let out a word our mothers would be ashamed to hear), while others put on a stoic face, giving away no hint of emotion. If your friend nominates you to take the challenge, you’d better find yourself a bucket, some water and ice, and take the challenge.  Preferably while someone is videotaping you, so you can nominate thee lucky friends of yours to take the challenge next.

With all the excitement around pouring ice on you and challenging your friends to do the same, do you really know what is behind this seemingly trivial stunt? Let’s dig in a little deeper. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a way to create awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). It is designed to encourage people to give donations – by declining the Ice Bucket Challenge you are definitely expected to make a donation.

Modern Senior Magazine fully supports the cause for ALS. According to the www.alscenter.org, this disease is most common among people who are between the ages of 40 and 75, with the majority of people being over 60 years of age. It is a relatively rare disease – roughly 2 out 100,000 people get it every year. It is estimated that approximately 5600 people in the US are diagnosed with ALS each year, and that as many as 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time. While these numbers may not seem outrageously high, it is the nature of the illness that deserves the most attention.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disorder, as are Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s. They are all characterized by progressive loss of nerve cell structure and function. What is different about ALS is that it affects motor neurons – the nerve cells that send signals to your muscles throughout the body. As the signal gets weaker and weaker, the muscles start losing their power. This is especially evident in the arms and legs. Once the nerve cells stop sending signals, it becomes difficult for the body to function – and most importantly, to swallow or breathe. According to www.alsa.org, the life expectancy of an ALS patient averages about two to five years from the time of diagnosis, although some people live with quality for more than five years. Clearly a lot more can be done to find a cure for this devastating illness.

The cause of ALS is not fully understood, although recent discoveries have made some great advancements.  We now know of a genetic abnormality that is the most common known cause of ALS. Another discovery has shown that two proteins work together to support the survival of motor neurons. But there is much more research needed on this devastating disease. By creating awareness and collecting donations, much more can be done to find the root causes ALS and ways to prevent them. As far we know, ALS can strike anyone, regardless of their race or ethnicity.

Perhaps its non-selective nature has made it easier for people to relate to. It has motivated millions to pick up a bucket with ice.  Numerous celebrities have already taken the challenge, from Bill Gates to Homer Simpson. The video of Bill Gates alone has been viewed over 18 million times. One of the most creative – and most dangerous – ice bucket challenges was done by Paul Bissonnette, who received his share of icy water from a helicopter while standing on a rocky mountain.

Not all celebrity challenges are that extreme, of course. Oprah, for example, has attracted over a million views from people wanting to see her startling and vocal reaction to the icy water. And Charlie Sheen, being quite original, replaced all the icy water in his bucket with $10,000 dollars in cash that he generously donated to the ALS Association. Having big name celebrities on board makes raising awareness that much more efficient.

Thanks to all the publicity, the ALS Association received over $100 million during last month from over 3 million people. That’s a 3,500% increase from the $2.8 million that the ALS Association raised during the same time period last year.

Though the Ice Bucket Challenge might be a passing phenomenon, raising awareness for a serious disease such as ALS is an ongoing process. With the publicity and funds raised from the challenge, we are more likely to hear positive results regarding finding a cure for ALS. The Ice Bucket Challenge is one of the most inspiring and entertaining events of this summer. We hope that people have realized the importance of raising awareness of ALS as much as they value the entertainment.

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