As part of the sub-cortical dementia in Huntington's disease, a person with Huntington's
disease loses their ability to gait emotion.
When confronted with the denial of their desire a person with Huntington's disease may
respond with a temper tantrum instead of responding with a more polite and socially acceptable response "why not?"
Aggression is a typical response in children and in some adults when their immediate desires
are not met. This can be severely worsened in Huntington's disease by the person's inability to gait or control wide fluctuations
in emotional response.
Just as they can rapidly escalate into severe anger and belligerence, they can also
calm down remarkably faster than their caregivers. Understanding that this is part of the disease can help in learning how
to modulate this behavior.
Once a pattern of behavior is established it may become difficult to break. If you initially
decline a request (e.g., to allow them to watch a television show), they respond angrily and then you give in to their original
demand, you have taught them that being aggressive and belligerent allows them to accomplish their goals.
Along the same line of teaching behaviors, if you constantly remind someone that they were
inappropriate (e.g., "you were out of control") you may also be reinforcing the behavior.
Try not to concentrate on talking about the detrimental behaviors, try to focus on the beneficial
behaviors. If you think that this sounds like a lesson in child rearing, you are correct. Children learn from
everything that they see and do. So do adults, irregardless of whether they have Huntington's disease or
By focusing on the inappropriate behaviors you may actually be reinforcing them and de-emphasizing
the desired behaviors.
When aggression reaches the point where you have a concern about harm to yourself,
to the affected person or to others involved in the care of a person with Huntington's disease, you must get professional
help as soon as possible.
Behavioral modification techniques can work, but there are times
when medications may be clearly needed as an adjunct to other techniques.
Health care providers with expertise in Huntington's disease
can be most helpful in this area.