Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is a comparatively rare condition affecting just two in every 100,000 people annually in the UK and there are around 5,000 sufferers living with MND at any one time. The disease is not exclusively hereditary and only 5% of sufferers have a family history of MND or the related condition, frontotemporal dementia, nor is it age specific although most victims are in their early sixties. Slightly more men are affected than women.
MND is caused when nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord which control muscle activity and functions such as walking, gripping, speech, swallowing and breathing cease functioning properly. The condition progresses until sufferers find these activities impossible to carry out. The cause of the disease is unclear and with the exception of a small number of family history cases, it appears to strike randomly.
Symptoms and diagnosis of MND
Diagnosis of MND is not straightforward and is based primarily on the opinion of a consultant neurologist. Other specialised tests are usually carried out to rule out other possible conditions. Symptoms progress gradually over weeks and months and often affect one side of the body to begin with. Common early symptoms include: weakened grip and weakness at the shoulder, "foot drop" or dragging of the leg and slurred speech. Pain is not generally present. As the damage to the neurones progresses, other parts of the body are affected and eventually the sufferer may lose mobility and experience difficulty in swallowing, breathing and communicating.
At time of writing there is no cure for MND. Treatment aims to give sufferers the best possible quality of life possible and to compensate in some way for the loss of bodily functions. The use of a breathing mask can help with breathing difficulties and the insertion of a feeding tube (gastrostomy) will provide nutritional maintenance and general comfort.
The administration of a drug called riluzole has been shown to provide a minor improvement in survival rates but does not provide a cure or retard the progression of the condition.
Many specialist pieces of equipment have been developed to help sufferers enabling increased mobility, independent living and comfort. Electric wheelchairs, mobility scooters, easy rise and recliner chairs, bath lifts and adjustable beds all go a long way towards improving a sufferers quality of life.
MND dramatically reduces life expectancy for most sufferers with half of all victims surviving only three to four years. Some may live for 10 years or more.
Life with MND is undoubted challenging and frightening too but there is a great network of support groups and specialist societies available and with the backup of this community many sufferers manage to remain relatively independent and enjoy a quality of life they did not think possible when they were first diagnosed.
MND is usually fatal due to the eventual compromise of the muscle controlling respiration and increased susceptibility to infections.
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