Helping People with Huntington’s Disease

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Huntington’s disease is a devastating neurodegenerative condition without a cure. Dr. Joy Antonelle de Marcaida is Medical Director of the Chase Family Movement Disorders Center at Hartford HealthCare’s Ayer Neuroscience Institute

Q.  Give us a bit more detail on Huntington’s disease. 
A: Huntington’s is a relatively rare hereditary condition characterized by dementia, behavioral and psychiatric issues, and involuntary movements called chorea. The reason we say it is like a combination of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is that patients with Huntington’s disease develop progressive cognitive loss like in Alzheimer’s, plus they have motor symptoms similar to Parkinson’s such as gait and balance problems and fidgeting movements. It is particularly devastating because Huntington’s progresses more rapidly than Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, and heartbreakingly, it does shorten life expectancy.

Q.  There is no cure for Huntington’s disease, but there is treatment. Tell us about that. 
A. Under the care of a multidisciplinary team, there are medications and interventions that can help control the involuntary movements, prevent falls, treat depression, and stabilize the formidable psychosocial sequelae of the disease on the patients and their families.

But to thoroughly care for patients, the team at the Chase Family Movement Disorders Center pulls together a personalized team to address different aspects of the condition. We have three of the most respected Movement Disorders neurologists plus the only neuropsychiatrist in the state of Connecticut to manage the potentially debilitating neurologic and psychiatric accompaniments of this disease. We also have a dedicated physical therapy and rehab medicine team to address the gait, balance, and motor impairments patients develop. We have a social worker to support and guide the patients and their families navigate the psychosocial challenges, a neuropsychologist to perform serial cognitive and behavioral testing, and wellness programs to promote socialization and exercise.

Q.  There is also support available through the Huntington’s Disease Society of America’s Connecticut Chapter. You are presenting at that organization’s sixth annual education conference on Saturday, April 7 at Backus Hospital in Norwich. What is the topic of your presentation? 
A. I’ve been invited to speak on the genetic implications of this disease and a proactive approach to managing its symptoms. Huntington’s is a strongly hereditary condition, so once someone is diagnosed with Huntington’s, each child and member of the family has a 50-50 chance of also developing this devastating illness. Patients and families are encouraged to attend this free event.

Dr. Joy Antonelle de Marcaida is speaking at the sixth annual education conference of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America’s Connecticut Chapter will be held Saturday, April 7 at Backus Hospital. For more information or to register for this free event, please call 860.267.0288, or email Sue McGann



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