Physics boffin Stephen Hawking has defied all odds to survive the disease – which usually carries a life expectancy of just three years
MOTOR neurone disease is a rare, incurable condition that affects the nervous system.
Here’s everything you need to know about the life-changing illness which causes muscle to visibly waste away – and recently claimed the life of celebrated actor Sam Shephard.
What is motor neurone disease?
Motor neurone disease is a rare condition.
About two in every 100,000 Brits develop it each year.
It affects specialist nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing the function of motor neurons to break down.
When this neurodegeneration occurs, everyday activities become increasingly difficult or completely impossible.
Over time, the condition progressively worsens as the muscle weakens and can visibly waste.
The majority of those diagnosed with the disease are given a three-year life expectancy starting from when they first notice the symptoms.
What causes motor neurone disease?
Even though there has been research into the cause of motor neurone disease, it is difficult to identify a particular trigger for the disease.
5-10% of all people with MND have the inherited or genetic form of the disease. Genes may still play a small part in other cases.
Whether there is a family history or not, other environmental triggers may still be needed for the disease to begin.
These triggers may be different for each individual.
Around 35 per cent of people with MND experience mild cognitive change, which can cause issues in executive functions such as planning, decision-making and language.
A further 15 per cent of people with MND show signs of frontotemporal dementia, which results in more pronounced behavioural change.
What are the symptoms of motor neurone disease?
While motor neurone disease isn’t usually painful, symptoms can be extremely debilitating.
In many cases, signs of the disease will begin gradually.
Typically, this will occur on one side of the body only, before progressively worsening.
Heartbreakingly, motor neurone disease may leave the diagnosed unable to move or communicate property.
Swallowing and breathing may also become a difficult task.
The NHS outlines initial symptoms to look out for…
- 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)
How is motor neurone disease treated?
Medical research is yet to find a cure for the rare illness.
Despite this, there is some treatment that can help those with motor neurone disease have a better quality of life, as well as helping with their mobility and bodily functions.
For those who struggle with respiration, a breathing mask may be prescribed.
Riluzole is a medication that is used to help people with motor neurone disease, although it doesn’t prevent the condition progressing.
As it stands, this treatment has only shown a very small improvement in patients’ survival.
For more information, visit the MND Association’s official website.
When was Stephen Hawking diagnosed with motor neurone disease?
Remarkably, physics genius Stephen Hawking has battled motor neurone disease since he was 21-years-old.
The national treasure, now 75, has defied all odds, especially given that he was diagnosed with two years to live.
Hawking regularly thanks the NHS for their assistance since his diagnosis.
He has said he would “not be here without it” because he’s had a “large amount of high-quality treatment”.