How does Huntington’s disease progress?
As the disease progresses, a person may experience many different symptoms, including involuntary movements, difficulty in speech and swallowing, weight loss, emotional changes resulting in stubbornness, frustration, mood swings and depression. Cognitive changes that people experience result in a loss of drive, initiative and organizational skills, which may lead others (who are not aware of the disease) to see the person as lazy. There may be difficulty in concentrating on more than one thing at a time. Sometimes it is the psychological problems, rather than the physical deterioration, that causes more difficulty for the person with Huntington’s disease and their career.

Some changes that are definitely attributable to the disease may be exacerbated by other factors, such as depression, anxiety and frustration. It is depressing to have a serious illness and extremely frustrating not to be able to do things that previously seemed commonplace. In the later stages of the disease, full nursing care will be needed. Secondary illnesses, such as pneumonia, are often the actual cause of death.

How is Huntington’s disease treated?
Currently, there is no cure for the illness but there are many ways to manage symptoms effectively. Medication can be used to treat symptoms such as involuntary movements, depression and mood swings. Speech therapy can significantly improve speech and swallowing problems. A high-calorie diet can prevent weight loss and improve symptoms such as involuntary movements or behavioral problems. Social services in your local area can assist with practical issues such as appropriate adaptations to your home if necessary and also assist with care at home or respite care. They can also assist with the provision of equipment if necessary. A referral can be made through your doctor.

Further information
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/huntington/huntington.htm

Last Reviewed: May 2013