About Alzheimer's & Dementia
What is Huntington’s Disease and how is it associated with dementia?
Huntington’s disease is a progressive brain disorder caused by a gene on chromosome 4. It is an “autosomal dominant disease,” meaning if a person has inherited the gene from a parent with Huntington’s disease, they will eventually develop the disease as well. It creates a progressive decline in thinking and memory, uncontrolled movements of the body and changes in mood and behaviour.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of Huntington's disease typically appear between 30-50 years of age, but can be present as early as age 2 or as late as 80 years. Common symptoms include uncontrolled movement of the arms, legs, head, face and upper body; and a significant decline in thinking and reasoning including memory, concentration, judgment and the ability to plan and organize. The brain changes in Huntington’s disease also lead to alterations in mood, especially depression, anxiety and unusual anger and irritability. Another common symptom is obsessive-compulsive behavior, where a person repeats an action or a question over and over again.
How is it diagnosed?
The gene that causes Huntington’s disease was identified in 1993. Genetic testing is now available to confirm the presence of the gene in symptomatic people with suspected symptoms and those without symptoms, but who are determined to be at risk of developing it based on a family history of the disease.
What kind of treatment is available?
As with Alzheimer’s disease , there is currently no cure for Huntington's disease and no way to slow or stop the progressive changes in the brain. Treatments focus on pharmaceutical drugs to help manage symptoms (involuntary movements or “chorea,” irritability and obsessive-compulsive thoughts/actions).
Other symptoms such as anxiety, depression and insomnia, should be treated according to generally accepted guidelines. Experts recommend people with Huntington's to keep their medical appointments and not to become discouraged if their health care team requires additional time to find the best pharmaceuticals and the most effective doses for the person.