Managing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Challenges in Huntington's Disease

Image for menopause articleHuntington's disease is a genetic neurological disease thatresults in a progressive loss of control over body movements,thinking abilities, emotions, and behavior. These changes are markedby difficulty communicating, memory problems, slowed thinking, moodswings, apathy, and lack of self-awareness. They take place as a result of degeneration of specific parts of the brain. It is important for you to understandwhat is happening with your loved one so that you can respondsensitively to their needs.Keep in mind that each person affected by Huntington's diseaseis unique and has individual needs. The changes you notice in yourloved one's behavior have nothing to do with character orpersonality, but are the result of the disease.

Cognitive Changes

Most people with Huntington's disease understand the majority of what is beingsaid to them, even during the end stages of the disease. However,there are a number of cognitive problems that may impairfunctioning. There may be difficulties with:
  • Short-term memory
  • Problem-solving ability
  • Learning new things
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Organizing ideas
  • Concentration
  • Poor orientation to space and time
There are some strategies that may help you meet these new challenges:
  • Make sure the environment is quiet and free from distractionswhen trying to explain something.
  • Make your expectations very clear.
  • Make complex information simple. Avoid giving too much at one time. Try to limit instructions to a maximum of 3 steps.
  • After writing down the steps, encourage your loved one topractice them repeatedly.
  • Allow plenty of time for learning, and ask the person to keeprepeating the steps.
You may also find you have to be more precise about scheduling activities. Here are some time-saving ideas:
  • Schedule daily routines for all tasks.
  • Use large, visible calendars,and clocks. These may include to-do lists, signs around the house, an alarm clock,or a wrist watch with an alarm.
  • Make use of your cell phone and/or tablet with calendars, alarms, and apps.
  • Keep an appointment book for all dates.
  • Keep a log of completed tasks. This can help with memory.

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