What's the treatment for Huntington's disease?
There is no cure for Huntington's disease, and there is no known way to stop progression of the disorder. Treatment is aimed at slowing progression and maximizing ability to function for as long as possible.
Medications vary depending on the symptoms. Dopamine blockers such as haloperidol or phenothiazine medications may reduce abnormal behaviors and movements. Reserpine and other medications have been used, with varying success. Drugs like Tetrabenazine and Amantadine are used to try to control extra movements. There has been some evidence to suggest that Co-Enzyme Q10 may minimally decrease progression of the disease.
Difficulty swallowing may be lessened by preparation of softer foods, blending food in an electric blender, and taking care to eat slowly and carefully. Use of a straw for all liquids can help. The potential for choking on food is a concern, especially late in the disease progression. Caregivers should learn the use of the Heimlich maneuver. In addition, passage of food into the airways increases the risk for pneumonia. A gastric feeding tube may be needed, if swallowing becomes too difficult or dangerous.
Speech difficulties may be partially compensated for through use of picture boards or other augmentative communication devices. Loss of cognitive ability affects both speech production and understanding. A speech-language pathologist can work with the family to develop simplified and more directed communication strategies, including speaking slowly, using simple words, and repeating sentences exactly.
Psychiatric illness, depression and suicide are common in Huntington's Disease. It is important for the caretaker and the physicians who care for a person with Huntington's Disease to monitor for symptoms and treat accordingly.
Symptomatic treatment for the dementia is similar to that used for any organic brain syndrome. Initially, reminders and aids may improve memory function. There is a progressive need for assistance and supervision, and 24-hour care may eventually be required.