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Motor Neurone Disease

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Introduction

Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is a progressive disease that attacks the motor neurones, or nerves, in the brain and spinal cord. This means messages gradually stop reaching muscles, which leads to weakness in the muscles and the muscles wasting away, causing increasing loss of mobility in the limbs, and difficulties with speech, swallowing and breathing, therefore affecting how you walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe.

Not all symptoms necessarily happen to everyone and it is unlikely they will all develop at the same time, or in any specific order. Although there is currently no cure for MND, symptoms can be managed to help you achieve the best possible quality of life.

The muscles first affected tend to be those in the hands, feet and mouth, dependent on which type of the disease you are diagnosed with.

MND does not usually affect the senses (sight, sound, touch) or the bladder and bowel. Some people may experience changes in thinking and behaviour, often referred to as cognitive impairment, but only a few will experience severe cognitive change.

The effects of MND can vary enormously from person to person, from the presenting symptoms, and the rate and pattern of the disease progression, to the length of survival time after diagnosis.

Diagnosis

Motor neurone disease can be extremely difficult to diagnose for several reasons:

The early symptoms can be quite slight, such as clumsiness, mild weakness or slightly slurred speech, all of which can be attributed to other reasons. It can be some time before someone feels it necessary to see a GP
The disease affects each individual in a different way, so there is no definitive set of symptoms.
There is no specific way of testing for MND, which means diagnosis requires the elimination of other potential conditions.

Causes & Risks of developing MND

In recent years there is evidence to suggest the incidence of motor neurone disease (MND) is increasing. This could possibly be due to more accurate diagnostic testing. Also, as people are generally living for longer, the incidence of a disease more common in older people will continue to increase.

MND can affect any adult at any age but most people diagnosed with the disease are over the age of 40, with the highest incidence occurring between the ages of 50 and 70. Men are affected more often than women.

It is not known exactly what causes MND. Each individual may be affected by a different combination of triggers, both genetic and environmental, which makes it very difficult to determine precise markers for the disease.

MND Statistics 

It is difficult to be exact, but statistics for motor neurone disease tell us that:

  • A person’s lifetime risk of developing MND is up to 1 in 300.
  • Around 35% of people with MND experience mild cognitive change, which can cause issues in executive functions such as planning, decision-making and language.
  • A further 15% of people with MND show signs of frontotemporal dementia which results in more pronounced behavioural change.
  • A third of the people diagnosed with MND die within a year and more than half within two years of diagnosis.

References

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