MND is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks the upper and lower motor neurones. Degeneration of the motor neurones leads to weakness and wasting of muscles, causing increasing loss of mobility in the limbs, and difficulties with speech and breathing. The hands, feet and mouth muscles are usually first to be affected, dependent on which type of the disease you are diagnosed with. MND does not usually affect the senses or the bladder and bowel. Some people may experience changes in thinking and behaviour, often referred to as cognitive impairment, but only a very few will experience severe cognitive change.
The symptoms of motor neurone disease begin gradually over weeks and months, usually on one side of the body initially, and get progressively worse. Common early symptoms include:
- a weakened grip, which can cause difficulty picking up or holding objects
- weakness at the shoulder that makes lifting the arm difficult
- a “foot drop” caused by weak ankle muscles
- dragging of the leg
- slurred speech (dysarthria)
It is important to realise not every symptom you experience will be caused by MND.
In up to 15% of cases, motor neurone disease is associated with a type of dementia that can affect personality and behaviour. This is called frontotemporal dementia, and is often an early feature when it occurs in motor neurone disease. The affected person may not realise that their personality or behaviour is different.
It is difficult to be exact, but statistics for motor neurone disease tell us that:
- It 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 approximately twice as often as women
- The incidence or number of people who will develop MND each year is about two people in every 100,000
- The prevalence or number of people living with MND at any one time is approximately seven in every 100,000
A diagnosis of MND can feel overwhelming. You, your family and everyone close to you may need time to adjust. As difficult as it may feel at first, having open conversations the news can be helpful. It may make it easier for everyone to share concerns, both now and in the future.
Motor neurone disease is a severely life-shortening condition for most people. Life expectancy for about half of those with the condition is three years from the start of symptoms. However some people may live for up to 10 years, and in rarer circumstances even longer. Living with motor neurone disease is extremely challenging and often a terrifing possibility before the diagnosis is made. However it is not necessarily as bleak as people imagine.
To find out more about Motor Neuroene Disease please visit www.mndassociation.org