Huntington’s Disease Therapies Focus on Maintaining Quality of Life
While dementia is often considered a senior health issue, that’s not always the case. With Huntington’s disease, an inherited condition causes cognitive decline for those in their 30s and 40s. Although there is no cure for Huntington’s disease, treatment can help slow the progression of symptoms and preserve quality of life.
What Causes Huntington’s Disease?
This disorder is caused by a faulty gene that can be passed along by either parent. That means if you are a carrier for Huntington’s, each of your children has a 50 percent chance of developing the disease. If someone in your family has Huntington’s, genetic testing can determine whether you’re a carrier.
What Are the Warning Signs of Huntington’s Disease?
This disorder causes a wide variety of symptoms that manifest differently for different people. The spectrum of potential symptoms includes movement problems, such as involuntary jerking, rigid muscles, slow eye movements, difficulty speaking or swallowing, and impaired gait; cognitive issues, such as trouble focusing, lack of flexibility, poor impulse control and associated reckless behavior, and difficulty learning and communicating; and emotional problems, including depression, irritability, social withdrawal, fatigue, or suicidal ideation. In addition, Huntington’s often manifests in conjunction with bipolar or obsessive compulsive disorder, or mania.
Treatments for Huntington’s Symptoms
Medications for this disease depend on the type of symptoms the person is experiencing. Drugs can be prescribed to treat movement problems and cognitive side effects. If psychological symptoms have manifested, the doctor may recommend antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizing drugs. Psychotherapy is often beneficial. For many people with Huntington’s, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy can help manage symptoms. Because people with this disease have trouble maintaining a healthy body weight, your doctor may also recommend nutrition counseling.
People with Huntington’s disease tend to live an average of 10 to 30 years after diagnosis, which often occurs by age 40 but can occur as young as 20. For those who develop the disease before age 20, progression is typically much faster and more severe. Because a person with Huntington’s can live for several decades, getting great medical care is essential to maintain high quality of life during that period.