Dementia is the general term for a cluster of symptoms associated with brain decline. There are many different forms of dementia and the particular type one has will determine the course of the decline. The symptoms are highly diverse, spanning behavioural, cognitive and language problems.
One form that leads to worsening physical and mental symptoms is Huntington’s disease (HD).
HD is a progressive brain disorder caused by a defective gene.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association (AA), the disease causes changes in the central area of the brain, which affect movement, mood and thinking skills.
As the AA explains, symptoms of HD usually develop between ages 30 and 50, but they can appear as early as age two or as late as 80.
“The hallmark symptom of Huntington’s disease is uncontrolled movement of the arms, legs, head, face and upper body,” says the health body.
It adds: “Huntington’s disease also causes a decline in thinking and reasoning skills, including memory, concentration, judgment, and ability to plan and organise.”
How to respond
According to the NHS, you should see your GP if you’re worried you might have early symptoms of Huntington’s disease, especially if you have a history of the condition in your family.
“Lots of things can cause these symptoms, so it’s a good idea to get them checked,” says the health body.
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Am I at risk?
HD is caused by a faulty gene in your DNA – the biological ‘instructions’ you inherit which tell your cells what to do.
As the Huntington’s Disease Association (HDA) explains, this means that if people in your biological family have HD (that is, the family you are genetically related to), then you may be at risk of the disease.
“Every child conceived naturally to a parent who carries the Huntington’s gene has a 50 percent chance of inheriting it,” explains the HDA.
Can it be treated?
There is currently no cure for Huntington’s disease and no way to slow or stop the brain changes it causes.
But treatment and support can help reduce some of the problems caused by the condition.
According to the NHS, medicines can help reduce some of the problems caused by HD, but they don’t stop or slow down the condition.
- Antidepressants for depression
- Medicines to ease mood swings and irritability
- Medicines to reduce involuntary movements.
As the NHS explains, some of these medicines aren’t licensed for HD, but have been found to help relieve the symptoms.
Daily tasks such as getting dressed, moving around your house and eating can be frustrating and exhausting if you have HD.
“An occupational therapist can look at activities you find difficult and see if there’s another way you can do them,” explains the NHS.
They can also recommend changes that could be made to your house and equipment you can use to make things easier for you, notes the health body.
These can include:
- Putting in ramps so an area can be accessed in a wheelchair
- Fitting a stairlift
- Installing grab rails – for example, by the stairs or beside the bed
- using electric can openers, electric toothbrushes and kitchen utensils with large handles that are easier to hold
- Voice-controlled lights or voice-controlled software on a computer.
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