Huntington's disease (HD) is a hereditary disorder of a person's central nervous system. The condition usually develops in adulthood, affecting both men and women. HD is caused by a faulty gene on chromosome 4 which leads to damage of nerve cells around the brain. This results in a gradual change of physical ability, mental awareness and emotional stability.
How does Huntington's disease manifest itself?-
As HD progresses, sufferers may experience involuntary movements, speech and language difficulties, weight loss, erratic behaviour and cognitive changes such as lack of ambition, initiative and organisational skills. Some people will accuse sufferers of being lazy which can trigger psychological problems. The sufferer's symptoms can also lead people to believe they are drunk.
Sufferers may feel they are defined by their illness rather than for their individual accomplishments, such as career progression, raising children or excelling in sports or hobbies. The psychological effects of HD can be just as damaging as the physical changes.
Many factors contribute a change in behaviour for those who have HD, including anxiety about the nature of the condition and the subsequent stress which is placed on relationships and social support. Depression is very common in those who have the condition, largely because accepting that they have HD and telling relatives and friends about it can be a deeply stressful and confidence-knocking tribulation.
What are the symptoms of Huntington’s Disease?-
Most people will start to experience symptoms of HD in their 30s and 40s, although it can start much earlier or later. If a family is not aware of the genetic fault and, therefore, not aware of HD, then diagnosis can be a lengthy process. The early symptoms of HD include:
- Stumbling and clumsiness
- Short term memory loss
- Erratic changes in mood
- Aggressive or anti-social behaviour
- Uncontrollable muscular movements
Until a diagnosis is made, the emotional pressure placed on family and friends can be intense. The sufferer is going through a period of confusion and fear, which can often be taken out on those close to them. Those who are aware of the genetic fault can become obsessed with finding symptoms of the disease and will become overly anxious about dropping something, forgetting a person's name or becoming ill-tempered.
How the Priory can help-
We believe that through a compassionate and person-centred approach to treatment, we can help individuals to rebuild and strengthen family and other social relationships. We understand how to sensitively care and support for individuals that may present with distressed reactions, to improve their emotional wellbeing and ensure their safety.
When the disease progresses, many sufferers struggle to cope in their own environment and can no longer be cared for safely at home. At this time, the Priory can best meet the needs of the individual. Priory is experienced in providing a range of specialist complex care and rehabilitation services for people who have Huntingdon’s Disease and who have significant care needs. In some cases, the individual may remain with the Priory until the end of their life. This is why Priory’s team of Huntingdon’s disease specialists are skilled at managing palliative care, supporting both the patient and family during this difficult time, with the intention of maximizing quality of life.