In the UK, around 2 in 100,000 people are diagnosed with the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) annually, culminating in around 5000 concurrent cases at any one time. Although it’s possible it could affect anyone, it’s most commonly found in people over 40 and begins to become prominent after the age of 60. It’s also slightly more common within in men.
Despite it not being overly common, the illness has a certain amount of public awareness due to high profile cases such as Professor Stephen Hawking. However, many people don’t understand the real effects of the illness, so what does it do?
An Overview of Motor Neurone Disease
Motor Neurone Disease is the name for a number of conditions that severely affect the nervous system, specifically the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This results in a gradual debilitation of the sufferer’s physical capabilities, but not their mental capacity. Initial symptoms include:
- Weakened grip
- Weakness of the shoulder making lifting arms difficult
- Drooping of the foot due to ankle weakness
- Dragging a leg or shuffling in step
- Slurred speech
More advanced and severe symptoms include:
- Not being able to swallow
- Loss of speech
- Difficulty Breathing
Typically, the life expectancy of Motor Neurone Disease is between two and five years, but this is largely influenced by the what is the most overwhelmingly common form; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – named after the baseball player who suffered from it in the 1930s – it diminishes the entire physical function of the sufferer. In very rare instances a person can survive much longer, most famously Professor Stephen Hawking has had the disease since the 1960s. ALS is also the blanket term used in the USA for all types of MND.
ALS is not the only form of Motor Neurone Disease, there are three others:
Bulbar onset MND, aka Progressive bulbar palsy (PBP) – This version of the illness is more focused on the facial muscles, throat and tongue. It has the shortest life expectancy of six months to three years.
Progressive muscular atrophy (PMA) – This strain of MND is most likely to show in the hands through clumsiness in the early stages. Life expectancy is typically beyond five years.
Primary lateral sclerosis (PLS) – The rarest form of the disease, it is predominantly present in the lower limbs. However, dexterity and speech problems can also occur in some cases. The progression is much slower and life expectancy is as much as 10-20 years. This can sometimes mean patients pass away due to other circumstances unrelated to the illness.
How is MND Treated?
The difficult truth is that there is no cure for any type of Motor Neurone Disease. The best that can currently be done is provide the right facilities for patients in order to make their living conditions more comfortable. This does not involve painkillers as the condition is not painful, but instead disability assistance and nursing care is the primary means of what could be considered treatment.
The most many of us can do to improve the outlook for MND patients is to raise awareness and encouraging funding for the respective charities. The UK’s national charity is the Motor Neurone Disease Association. With effective campaigning breakthroughs can be made, as was demonstrated with the internationally successful ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014. Incredibly, despite dividing opinion, the viral challenge resulted in massively increased awareness, subsequently funding the discovery of a new gene related to the disease.
MND Awareness Month happens in June each year.