Although there surely are others, four non-drug "things" that this author believes can make a huge difference for those with HD or at risk of it is the focus of this article. The "things" include:
- Exercise for body and brain
- Knowledge of and early recognition and management of symptoms
- Healthy Sleep
- Attention to carer needs
Exercise is too often the "thing" that is best for us that we don't want to do. Exercise improves all sorts of medical situations: heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, etc. In HD we need to remember that physical exercise is "brain" exercise. Several studies have shown that active life-styles and exercise give benefit in HD that include:
- Delay in onset of symptoms: In an Australian study it was found that those who had an active life style starting in adolescent years had almost year later onset of disease symptoms when compared to those who were not active. This suggests that exercise is neuroprotective.
- Improved fittness, strength and movement ability: Other studies over the last 2 years from the U.S., Australia and Europe show that exercise (both aerobic and strengthing) improves fittness, strength, and voluntary movement ability that is impaired in HD.
- Bigger brains: One of these studies had MRI imaging of brain before and after (9 months) of regular exercise that showed an increase in size of parts of the brain damaged by HD when compared to those who didn't exercise.
The body-brain exercise connection and why it's important in HD: When there is physical movement, the area of the brain that controls movement is active too and "lights up" on an MRI brain scan. The more physical exercise, the stronger that area of brain becomes. And importantly in HD, new nerve connections are made that can bypass damaged pathways.