Juvenile Huntington’s Disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects the central nervous system and results in death. The word” Juvenile” refers to youth or adolescence; otherwise, Huntington’s disorder would be classified as adult-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Other terms for juvenile Huntington’s disorder include JHD, juvenile-onset Alzheimer’s disease, pediatric-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and sporadic adult-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Juvenile Huntington’s Disease Symptoms
The specific symptoms of this disease are unexplained involuntary movements of the body, including the trunk, extremities, face, and head, and difficulty initiating and completing behaviors. In addition to the signs and symptoms described above, individuals with this disorder experience a loss in cognitive function, including frequent memory loss, poor planning and organization, a diminished sense of time and space, a noticeable reduction in concentration, a decreased sense of hearing, a decreased sense of taste, a tendency to repeatedly hit or poke items, and difficulty swallowing. A feeling of anxiety and frustration as well as feelings of hopelessness and irritability are also common.
Because voluntary movements are the means through which an individual with Huntington’s can communicate with others, these involuntary movements can be a symptom of the disease. As an example, when a child is unable to control his involuntary movements during a speech due to Huntington’s, the audience may assume that he is not listening or that he is speaking too fast. Other involuntary movements can include arm flailing and kicking. The fact that some of these symptoms mirror those of Parkinson’s Disease can add to the confusion surrounding the disorder. While Parkinson’s’ Disease is incurable, juvenile Huntington’s can be treated, although patients are not guaranteed a high level of success with treatments targeting the cognitive and linguistic regions of the brain.
The reason that this disease shares so many symptoms with other psychiatric disorders symptoms is that many of the cognitive and linguistic functions that go on in the brain stem from areas that are affected by the disease, such as the temporal lobe, the midline auditory cortices, and the periaqueductal grey matter. While it is impossible to isolate specific genes responsible for juvenile-onset Huntington’s Disease, it is known that Huntington’s can run in families and that some hereditary factors are present in those who suffer from the disease as well. Those whose parents or grandparents have had or currently have been diagnosed with the disease are five times more likely to develop it themselves. However, environmental factors such as exposure to toxins, alcohol, and tobacco can increase the risk as well.
Juvenile Huntington’s Disease in Children and Adults
When looking at symptoms of Huntington’s Disease in children and adults, there can be a lot of discrepancies. For example, children might exhibit motor skills, speech development, and school performance that is similar to those of an adult, but they might also display a lack of interest in play and other types of activities typical of an adult. Adults with the disease also usually show an increased anxiety level, a diminished ability to care about their personal hygiene, a decreased need for sleep, and poor judgment when making decisions. As is often the case with Alzheimer’s Disease, the only physical symptoms seen in someone who has Huntington’s Disease are slight body weakness or muscle spasms. This type of symptom can be seen in both children and adults, although to a significantly lesser degree than with Alzheimer’s Disease.
In addition, because the cause of juvenile-onset HD is unknown, treating the disease in children and delaying the onset of adulthood could actually do more harm than good. Treating the disorder in children allows them to develop a healthy relationship with their peers, delay the onset of adulthood, and allow them to pursue extracurricular activities once they have attained teenage years. Although the symptoms of juvenile-onset HD can be mitigated, it is important that the disorder be detected early in order to prevent the development of more serious, irreversible complications later in life. If you suspect that your child may have Huntington’s Disease, consult with a physician today.