June 5, 2012
Edith Cowan University has concluded an 18-month study that could change the way Huntington’s Disease is treated.
Huntington’s Disease is a fatal, hereditary, neurodegenerative disorder that gradually damages a person mentally, physically and emotionally, restricting their ability to think, move, and function independently.
There is no cure for the disease and no way to slow it down.
A team lead by ECU Associate Professor Mel Ziman and neuroscientist and project manager Jennifer Thompson designed a program where patients in the early to mid stages of Huntington’s participated in weekly gym sessions, home based gym exercises and occupational therapy over nine months.
“People with Huntington’s Disease need to be active,” Dr Thompson said.
“They need to keep their brain stimulated and that’s basically what we’ve done here.
“We have used body and mind exercises to stimulate the brain and keep it at its optimum level for as long as possible.”
Results from the study have showed improvements in the three broad areas affected in people with Huntington’s Disease.
“We have noticed that people have improved cognitive function,” Dr Thompson said.
“They are able to do mental activities faster and more accurately than people who did not receive the intervention.
“We have also seen improvements in patients depression levels, and physically, patients are a lot stronger than they were at the beginning and have improved their walking and balance,”
“We have also found that while the motor skills of patients are still deteriorating they are doing so at 50 per cent slower than the rate of other people who did not receive the intervention.”
Ed Farr, 54, has a family history of Huntington’s Disease and has noticed improvements since starting the program.
“I used to fall once a month before this program but since then I basically have had no falls at all,” Mr Farr said.
“I have also seen improvements in my fine motor control and it has certainly helped with my mood.
Mr Farr said the study gave him hope.
“It has been a real opportunity to make a difference in our lives and traditionally people have said when you get Huntington’s you get worse,” he said.
“Well we’ve conclusively proved you can get Huntington’s and get better.”
Bronwynne Gee, 51, has also seen improvements since starting the program.
“Because of this program I have much better strength which helps my balance, my co-ordination and my walking,” Mrs Gee said.
“I can see that I am doing things better than I was before, or at least I am staying at the same level which is a good thing when you have a degenerative disease.”
Dr Thompson says that, given the results so far, this type of intervention is a step toward better management of Huntington’s disease.
“Our future hope would be to implement these practices into a Huntington’s population of people who are not yet showing symptoms, and to delay the onset of symptoms for as long as possible,” she said.
“Our ultimate goal would be to translate this intervention into the clinic, as a standard measure of treatment for people with Huntington’s disease.”