Speech Therapy for Huntington’s Disease

Speech Therapy for Huntington’s Disease

What is Huntington’s Disease?

Huntington’s disease is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by a defective gene. It affects the center of the brain by damaging nerve cells. The areas that are most significantly impacted by Huntington’s Disease are controlling the movement of the body, cognitive and thinking skills, and mood regulation. Huntington’s Disease is caused by a defect in chromosome 4 and is a dominant gene which means that it is inevitably passed onto offspring.

People who are affected by Huntington’s Disease may exhibit abnormal involuntary and jerky movement of their limbs and/or face. They also experience a decline in thinking and reasoning skills and may develop extreme irritability, depression, or other mood disruptions. Huntington’s Disease is degenerative and can progress quickly. Immediate and consistent intervention is key in managing symptoms.

Connect with one of our highly qualified speech therapists to learn more about how we can support you or your loved one and regain lost communication skills. Schedule your free introductory call today to begin your personalized virtual speech therapy program!

What are the Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease?

This disease typically does not start to affect the body until well into adulthood. Symptoms usually begin to emerge at some point between ages 30 and 50 but have also appeared as early as 2 and as late as 80. Huntington’s Disease affects people in three areas, their physical abilities, cognitive abilities, and mood regulation. 

Physical – The “Hallmark” symptom of this disease is the uncontrolled and involuntary movement of the arms, face, legs, head, and upper body. 

Cognitive – Huntington’s Disease also dramatically affects thinking skills. More specifically, reasoning, memory, judgment, and concentration skills are affected. There may also be significant organizational and planning skill deficits. 

Mood – Many people who are affected by Huntington’s Disease exhibit uncharacteristic irritability or anger. They may also develop anxiety and depression despite having very stable mental health previously. It has also been widely recorded that those suffering from Huntington’s disease are also likely to develop OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) 

How is Huntington’s Disease Diagnosed?

Scientists were able to identify the affected gene as a marker for Huntington’s Disease in 1993. A diagnostic test is now available that can identify the presence of the protein huntingtin before symptoms appear. In most cases, genetic counseling is recommended after a positive diagnosis for Huntington’s Disease, as the defective chromosome is indiscriminately passed on to future generations. 

How is Huntington’s Disease Treated?

At this point in time, there is no cure for Huntington’s Disease. There is also no known way to slow or prevent the disease from progressing. For now, treatment focuses on the management of symptoms and optimizing the quality of life for those affected. Each person affected by Huntington’s Disease will experience their symptoms uniquely. Meaning no two patients are the same, and no two patients exhibit identical symptoms. 

There are a wide variety of medications and therapies that are available to help people with Huntington’s Disease. It is important to practice patience and perseverance when beginning a new medication(s) as it takes time to figure out how these medications interact with your body and with each other. It may take weeks or months to figure out the correct combination and dosage of medications. 

Speech therapy is also a very important part of a treatment plan for Huntington’s Disease. One of our highly specialized virtual speech therapists can offer support and guidance on the road to managing symptoms. Connect with one of our speech therapists by scheduling your free introductory call today!

What is the Difference between Huntington’s Disease and Parkinson’s?

Unfortunately, many people know someone who is affected by Huntington’s Disease or Parkinson’s disease. The key difference between these two degenerative brain disorders is that while Huntington’s Disease causes emotional difficulties, cognitive abilities, and abnormal repetitive movements, Parkinson’s causes a slowing of movements and affects mobility and muscle control due to rapid brain degeneration. 

Some of the other significant differences between the two are:

Stage of Life When Symptoms Appear: While Huntington’s Disease symptoms can begin to appear in early adulthood, Parkinson’s Disease more commonly affects those who are 70 or older. 

Cause: Huntington’s Disease is caused by a defective gene, whereas Parkinson’s is caused by the degeneration of neurons in the center of the brain. 

Life Expectancy – Sadly, those affected by Huntington’s Disease are expected to live only 15-20 years after the first onset of symptoms. Conversely, Parkinson’s has no effect on life expectancy but can dramatically reduce the quality of life for those affected. 

How does Huntington’s disease Affect Speech? 

In many cases, Huntington’s Disease affects one’s ability to speak clearly and effectively, as this disease can cause a loss of coordination within the throat and mouth muscles that facilitate speaking and breathing. Some of the most common changes in speech due to Huntington’s Disease are slurred words, loss of control of the volume of speech, hoarseness of the voice, or improper pauses when speaking. In these cases, speech therapy can be an incredibly valuable resource for supporting someone affected by Huntington’s disease.  

How can Speech Therapy help? 

Huntington’s Disease affects each person differently, so the course of treatment with a speech and language pathologist will vary from patient to patient as well. To begin, the speech therapist will work to establish the areas of communication and speech that pose the greatest challenge. From there they will develop a plan to help support their client and improve not only their communication but their quality of life as a whole. 

Whether it is swallowing problems or more frequent coughing and choking due to poor muscle tone or communication problems related to cognitive and thinking skills, a highly qualified speech therapist can provide an ample amount of support and guidance. 

Some people whose communication is affected by Huntington’s Disease may attempt to withdraw or avoid social interaction simply because it is too difficult or painful. It is widely agreed upon that the earlier that intervention and support are introduced, the better the chance is of therapy being successful. This disease is degenerative and can change over time, so frequent and consistent time with a speech therapist can be very important. 

There is assistance available if you or someone you care about is having communication difficulties as a result of Huntington’s disease. Let us help to connect you with one of our highly specialized and qualified speech therapists and schedule your free introductory call today!


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