Dame Julie Andrews: Star, 86, on a ‘devastating inherited condition’ – symptoms

Julie Andrews reveals what she took from Mary Poppins set

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In more recent times, Dame Andrews has lent her sultry tones to narration work, including the latest season of popular Netflix period drama Bridgerton, which is released on the streaming platform today (Friday, March 25). This year she also narrated the action-adventure film The King’s Daughter, which also starred Pierce Brosnan. Off-screen, Dame Andrews, 86, served on the board of trustees at the Hereditary Disease Foundation (HDF) for over 30 years. The star’s late husband, Blake Edwards, also served on the board until his death in 2010. The HDF funds cutting-edge research and is committed to finding treatments and cures for Huntington’s disease and other hereditary illnesses.

The Huntington’s Disease Association explains that the illness is caused by a faulty gene in an individual’s DNA.

If inherited, the condition affects the body’s nervous system causing challenges with movement, learning, thinking and emotions.

The condition is progressive meaning that symptoms will develop over time and individuals will have to keep adapting their lifestyle in accordance with their condition.

The NHS explains that sadly the condition is usually fatal after a period of up to 20 years.

It is reported by Brain and Life Magazine that Dame Andrews was approached to serve as a board member by Milton Wexler Ph.D, who created the foundation after his wife developed the disease.

Speaking about Huntington’s disease back in 2007, Dame Andrews said: “This is a devastating inherited condition that often waits until mid-life to strike.

“Blake and I were thrilled when the Wexlers asked us to serve on the board.

“We primarily serve as spokespeople for the organisation and assist with fundraising.

“This is a cause that both Blake and I feel strongly about, and we see how the HDF’s work has the potential to impact a variety of diseases.

“Huntington’s is also a ‘marker disease’, which means that if a cure is found, researchers will also gain insight on how to cure hereditary forms of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, other genetic diseases – even cancer.”

In 2022, the HDF focuses on the following, in the hopes to not only find a cure for Huntington’s disease but other more complex brain disorders:

  • Funding groundbreaking research
  • Fostering collaboration
  • Recognising achievement
  • Innovating research; discovering cures.

“It’s impossible to talk about Huntington’s disease without heralding the accomplishments of the Wexler family and their commitment to neurological research,” Dame Andrews added.

“The work the Wexlers do on behalf of Huntington’s is truly remarkable.

“Both Nancy and Milton are brilliant, and they have put together a team of the best and brightest scientists and other staff people who are truly committed to finding a cure.”

Symptoms of Huntington’s disease typically start at the age of 30 to 50, but some individuals experience them much earlier. These symptoms can include the following:

  • Difficulty concentrating and memory lapses
  • Depression
  • Stumbling and clumsiness
  • Involuntary jerking or fidgety movements of the limbs and body
  • Mood swings and personality changes
  • Problems swallowing, speaking and breathing
  • Difficulty moving.

Although the condition is inherited, individuals are only at risk of developing the condition if one of both of their parents have also had it. The NHS adds that very occasionally it is possible to develop Huntington’s disease without having a history of it in your family. But this is usually just because one of your parents was never diagnosed with it.

Currently there remains no cure for Hutington’s disease, or any way to stop it from getting progressively worse. But treatment and support can help individuals reduce some of the problems it may pose.

For example medication can help curb depression, mood swings and involuntary movements and occupational therapy can help to make everyday tasks easier.

Speech and language therapy and physiotherapy can also help in communication, movement and balance problems.

The NHS recommends individuals seek advice from their GP if:

  • They are worried they might have symptoms of Huntington’s disease – especially if someone in their family has or had it
  • They have a history of the condition in the family and want to find out if they will get it too
  • They have a history of the condition in their family and are planning a pregnancy.

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