Past research suggested that motor neurone disease (MND) only affected the nerve cells (neurons) controlling the muscles that enable us to move, speak, breathe and swallow. However, more recent research has found that over 50% of people with MND can experience reduced abilities in thinking and behaviour.1
When cognitive and behaviour changes occur in MND, it is because there have been changes in specific areas of the brain called the frontal and temporal lobes (shown right).2
Most people experience relatively mild changes. However, approximately 10–15% of patients with ALS show signs of FTD, and may receive a diagnosis of ‘motor neurone disease with frontotemporal dementia’ or MND/FTD.3 Often the symptoms of dementia precede the motor symptoms, sometimes by a number of years.
When cognitive and behaviour changes are mild, they may not be noticeable or affect daily life. However, when changes are more pronounced, they can have a negative impact on a person’s lifestyle and relationships. Cognitive and behaviour changes can often be a source of confusion and misunderstanding for the person with MND and their family. While the nature of changes in cognition and behaviour will vary from person to person, some of the most common symptoms are listed below.
Changes in cognition can include difficulties with:
Changes in behaviour or personality can include:
Changes in language can include:
If you or someone you know might be experiencing these symptoms, it is important to consult with a general practitioner (GP), neurologist or specialist MND clinic. Clinical neuropsychologists can also assist in diagnosing changes in cognition and behaviour, and can help the person and their family to develop practical strategies to manage symptoms. Strategies may include things like reducing distractions, shorter phrases, memos and aids.8, 9