What are Motor Neurone Diseases? Symptoms, Treatment and Care Strategies

Motor neurone disease (MND) is a condition that affects the brain and nerves. It is a rare condition that causes weakness that becomes more severe over time. 

This condition occurs when the motor neurones in the brain and spinal cord do not work properly, often a result of neurodegeneration. MND makes it increasingly difficult for messages from the brain to reach the muscles, lessening a person’s ability to control their body. 

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (known as ALS) is the most common type of MND. The renowned physicist Stephen Hawking lived with this condition. 

MND can affect your daily function, such as the way you walk, drink and breathe. The effects of this disease are not uniform, however. People affected by this disease may exhibit different symptoms, and the course of this disease can be difficult to predict. Although it can affect people of any age, it is most likely to affect people who are older than 50, and is found more often in men than in women. 

If diagnosed with motor neurone disease, affected individuals will eventually require constant and specialised care. The following is a collection of important facts about this disease to assist you in gathering information and deciding on an accurate treatment plan. 

Motor Neurone Disease Symptoms

Motor Neurone Disease Symptoms

MND is tricky, because it affects everyone differently. Not all patients will experience the same symptoms, or in the same progression. The speed of the onset of symptoms will be different for every patient. Early signs of motor neurone disease often involve weakness or stiffness in the muscles of the limbs or throat.

If you or anyone in your family experience symptoms of motor neurone disease, you should seek help from a trusted health professional. 

Although motor neurone disease cannot be stopped or reversed, medication and therapy can help in managing its symptoms. 

Despite the progressive nature of the disease, with proper treatment patients can still achieve a better quality of life. Looking for symptoms in the initial stages of MND can reduce their effects, and allow patients and family members to adjust their coping and care strategies accordingly. 

The patient may experience some or all of the MND symptoms listed below:

  • Muscle cramps and spasms that may include rippling sensations
  • Pain or discomfort 
  • Muscle weakness along with a loss of muscle mass that leads to movement and mobility problems
  • Weakened coughing or difficulty clearing one’s throat
  • Stiff joints and limited range of movements
  • Half of patients diagnosed with motor neurone disease report changes to thinking and behaviour
  • Speech and communication problems, including symptoms that affect your ability to speak, perform gestures, and express
  • Breathing issues that lead to fatigue and breathlessness
  • Changes to thinking and behaviour
  • Some patients may develop frontotemporal dementia, where the patient may need extra support
  • Difficulty in swallowing that affects how patients drink or eat
  • Inappropriate emotional responses, such as laughing when feeling sad 
  • Problems with saliva, where saliva becomes thick and sticky
  • Thin saliva pools in the mouth

What to do if you suspect a loved one is showing MND symptoms

What to Do If You Suspect You or Your Loved One Is Showing Signs of MND

If you or any of your loved ones are showing signs of motor neurone disease, contact a professional health provider. They will be able to diagnose and confirm if the person is affected by this disease. 

If a diagnosis of MND is confirmed, it’s important to provide the affected individual with appropriate care. Because the patient will experience a range of symptoms that may worsen with time., they will need help managing symptoms and will likely need additional care. You should understand that every MND patient is different, and so are their needs. 

Try to provide support and care suited to the patient’s preference and needs. Emotional support is important. Try to provide motivation for the patient. Formulating the right treatment plan will also help the patient manage their symptoms and carry on with their daily lives like they did before the diagnosis. 

Types of MND

Types of MND

Patients with motor neurone disease may need a variety of treatments. The progress and speed of symptoms is different for every patient. 

Depending on different factors, patients may be diagnosed with a specific type of MND. Although the disease is classified into four different types, they do not describe a separate condition, simply a different form. 

Each type we have listed below is a method of describing how the disease will affect the patient. Since this disease has overlapping symptoms, it may be challenging to diagnose. 

As time passes, symptoms become clearer. Healthcare professionals are able to review and provide an accurate diagnosis.  

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS):

This is the most common form of motor neurone disease. Patients may experience weakness, muscle stiffness and cramps. Some patients also experience tripping when they walk. Others drop things more than usual. 

Life expectancy under this classification ranges from two to five years from the onset of symptoms.  

Bulbar onset MND or progressive bulbar palsy (PBP):

This type of MND affects a smaller number of people than ALS. This condition primarily affects the muscles of the throat, face and tongue. Patients experience early symptoms such as difficulty in swallowing food or slurring of speech. 

The life expectancy of this disease ranges from six months to three years from the onset of symptoms. 

Progressive muscular atrophy (PMA):

Another rare form of MND, PMA also affects a very small number of people. Patients may experience early symptoms such as weakness or clumsiness of the hands. 

The life expectancy for this disease is more than five years from the onset of symptoms.

Primary lateral sclerosis (PLS): 

PLS is also considered a rare form of motor neurone disease. This issue primarily causes weakness and stiffness that is initially experienced in the lower limbs. 

Many people experience additional issues and problems with PLS, such as issues with their speech. The diagnosis of PLS may take longer due to its slow progression. The symptoms of PLS and ALS may look the same at first, but a disease specialist should be able to distinguish between the two. 

Because of its more gradual progression, the median life expectancy for an individual diagnosed with PLS is about 20 years.

Motor Neurone Disease Treatment

Motor Neurone Disease Treatment

While there is no cure for motor neurone disease, its symptoms can be treated. Motor neurone disease care and treatment mainly focuses on slowing the progression of symptoms and maximising the comfort and independence of patients. 

Techniques and treatments for MND include physical therapy and supportive devices. The correct treatment will depend on several factors, such as the type of MND, the severity of symptoms, personal choice, availability and affordability of specific medications.

Treatment plans include medications that help manage muscle cramps and stiffness. Botox can block signals from the brain that stiffen the muscles, and is effective for up to three months. Muscle relaxers can also relieve muscle stiffness, yawning and spasms. In many cases, doctors implant a small pump to deliver medicine so it can reach the nervous system more efficiently. 

Doctors also recommend anti-inflammatory drugs that relieve or moderate the pain from muscle cramping. In some cases, doctors will recommend stronger medicines for more severe joint and muscle pain. Patients can also benefit from antidepressants, as they can help with episodes of uncontrollable crying or laughter. 

Many treatment plans also provide access to assistive devices, making daily functions like speaking, breathing and swallowing easier. 

Physical and occupational therapy can also help patients maintain mobility and function, as well as encouraging patients to find better ways to perform daily tasks. 

Motor Neuron Disease Care tips

Caregiving Tips for Loved Ones with MND

If you or any of your loved ones are diagnosed with motor neurone disease, it can be a challenging time for all. Such a diagnosis can lead to hopelessness for some patients, which is why compassionate care and support for patients is so essential. 

With proper motor neurone disease care and support, patients can improve their quality of life and continue to lead relatively normal lives. 

Here are some ways to provide comfort and support to your loved ones who have been diagnosed with motor neurone disease: 

Managing Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of MND, and conserving energy becomes more crucial to managing the disease. 

To ward off fatigue, plan your favourite activities in advance, and stick to a regular sleeping schedule. 

Promoting Better Sleep

Sleep is very important. Patients suffering from MND struggle with sleep due to joint pains, difficulty breathing and excess saliva. Try light massages on aching muscles to help patients sleep more comfortably. Caregivers can also converse with patients before bed to promote relaxation. 

Specialised Meal Preparation

MND patients may experience difficulty in swallowing food. It’s critical to modify meal preparation to include food that is easy to swallow. This will prevent choking and promote proper nutrition. Blending food into smooth purees will also promote a better flow of saliva and regulate mood. 

Specialised Equipment

If the patient has been facing difficulty with their daily activities, you can get devices to support them. Mobility, respiratory and communication support devices can be beneficial for MND patients. Those devices allow for patients to stay connected with their families and ensure that they can communicate what they want and need to receive proper care. 

More Information

If you wish to know more about MND, and ways to help your loved ones. We have listed several credible sources below. Have a look to better understand motor neurone disease and provide the correct care. Once again, if you suspect that you or a loved one is experiencing signs of MND, seek medical advice from a trained professional.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/motor-neurone-disease/  

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/motor-neurone-disease-mnd 

https://brainfoundation.org.au/disorders/motor-neurone-disease/  

Home nursing care can be a great help to those with limited mobility that need sophisticated medical care. If you need assistance with home care for a loved one suffering from Motor Neurone disease, contact the aged care and disability support experts at The CareSide.

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