Is there a link between dementia and motor neuron disease?

Find out what the connection is between dementia and motor neuron disease

In a nutshell

Motor neuron disease is a rare, devastating condition which damages the nervous system and leads to paralysis. A small number of people who have motor neuron disease are also diagnosed with a specific type of dementia called frontotemporal dementia (often called Pick's disease) which tends to affects personality and behaviour.

3 facts worth knowing

1. Both motor neuron disease (MND) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) are neurodegenerative diseases and are thought to be caused by a faulty gene.
2. Around 15 per cent of people with frontotemporal dementia will also develop motor neuron disease
3. There are several forms of MND, the most common is called ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). However in the USA they use ALS to mean MND, which can cause confusion!

What actually happens?

If someone with motor neuron disease is going to develop dementia it usually happens fairly early on. At first, symptoms may be so mild that they're hardly noticeable, for example, they might lose concentration when reading the newspaper. Sadly, symptoms do usually become more obvious quite rapidly, and can include changes in behaviour. Feeling restless, binging on sweet food, or acting impulsively, are some of the most common symptoms.

Here’s the science

Toxic protein fragments that damage and destroy brain cells are thought to be the main culprits in both frontotemporal dementia and motor neuron disease. Scientists have recently discovered that an unusual genetic mutation in the C9orf72 gene could be responsible for causing both diseases.

Good to know

Many people with motor neuron disease do not develop dementia, while some may experience very mild changes in thinking and memory which aren’t related to dementia.

It’s dreadful to discover that a loved one has both of these conditions but don’t despair, there are many ways to help them live well – and make your life a little easier too.