Huntington's Disease: Causes and Caretaking

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Huntington's disease is a condition where the cells in specific areas of the brain are gradually destroyed over time. It is an inherited, progressive disorder with complications affecting movements, mood and memory. In fact, the child of a person with Huntington's disease has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene that causes this disease. There is currently no cure.

Today, there are approximately 30,000 symptomatic Americans and more than 200,000 at risk of inheriting the disease. Huntington’s disease usually affects patients in the prime of their lives, between the ages of 30-50, and the impact on the family can be immense. As with other movement disorders, the stages of the disease get progressively more debilitating over time, with specific symptoms including:

  • Rapid, jerky movements
  • Unsteady gaits
  • Difficulties with speech, swallowing, balance, and walking
  • Loss of mental abilities and memory; confusion and inability to concentrate
  • Emotional changes: mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety, anger, or social withdrawal
  • Hallucinations
  • Weight loss

Patients suffering from Huntington’s disease need specialized care, especially in the later stages of the illness. A multitude of treatments requires a team of experts to help with medication management, lowering the possibility of dangerous falls, as well as coping on an emotional level. Many patients benefit from an interdisciplinary team of specialized experts including:

  • Neurology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy,
  • Nutritional support
  • Social work
  • Genetics counseling and research

The Huntington's Disease Program at the Ochsner Neuroscience Institute has been recognized as one of the prestigious Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) Centers of Excellence for 2016. With only 39 designated centers nationally, Ochsner is the only Center of Excellence in Louisiana and Mississippi.

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