Although a psychologist or psychiatrist, a genetic counselor, and other specialists may
be needed at different stages of the illness, usually the first step in diagnosis and in finding treatment is to see a neurologist.
While the family doctor may be able to diagnose HD, and may continue to monitor the individual's status, it is better to consult
with a neurologist about management of the varied symptoms.
Problems may arise when individuals try to express complex thoughts in words they can no
longer pronounce intelligibly. It can be helpful to repeat words back to the person with HD so that he or she knows that some
thoughts are understood.
Sometimes people mistakenly assume that if individuals do not talk, they also do not understand.
Never isolate individuals by not talking, and try to keep their environment as normal as possible. Speech therapy may improve
the individual's ability to communicate.
It is extremely important for the person with HD to maintain physical fitness as much as
his or her condition and the course of the disease allows. Individuals who exercise and keep active tend to do better than
those who do not. A daily regimen of exercise can help the person feel better physically and mentally.
Although their coordination may be poor, individuals should continue walking, with assistance
if necessary. Those who want to walk independently should be allowed to do so as long as possible, and careful attention should
be given to keeping their environment free of hard, sharp objects. This will help ensure maximal independence while minimizing
the risk of injury from a fall. Individuals can also wear special padding during walks to help protect against injury from
Some people have found that small weights around the ankles can help stability. Wearing
sturdy shoes that fit well can help too, especially shoes without laces that can be slipped on or off easily.
Eating & Swallowing
Impaired coordination may make it difficult for people with HD to feed themselves and to
swallow. As the disease progresses, persons with HD may even choke.
In helping individuals to eat, caregivers should allow plenty of time for meals. Food can
be cut into small pieces, softened, or pureed to ease swallowing and prevent choking.
While some foods may require the addition of thickeners, other foods may need to be thinned.
Dairy products, in particular, tend to increase the secretion of mucus, which in turn increases the risk of choking.
Some individuals may benefit from swallowing therapy, which is especially helpful if started
before serious problems arise. Suction cups for plates, special tableware designed for people with disabilities, and plastic
cups with tops can help prevent spilling.
The individual's physician can offer additional advice about diet and about how to handle
swallowing difficulties or gastrointestinal problems that might arise, such as incontinence or constipation.
Caregivers should pay attention to proper nutrition so that the individual with HD takes
in enough calories to maintain his or her body weight.
Sometimes people with HD, who may burn as many as 5,000 calories a day without gaining weight,
require five meals a day to take in the necessary number of calories.
Physicians may recommend vitamins or other nutritional supplements. In a long-term care
institution, staff will need to assist with meals in order to ensure that the individual's special caloric and nutritional
requirements are met. Some individuals and their families choose to use a feeding tube; others choose not to.
Individuals with HD are at special risk for dehydration and therefore require large quantities
of fluids, especially during hot weather. Bendable straws can make drinking easier for the person. In some cases, water may
have to be thickened with commercial additives to give it the consistency of syrup or honey.