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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Motor neurone disease

Hemonga iaia

Motor neurones are the nerves in your brain and spinal cord that carry messages to your muscles to get them to move. In motor neurone disease (MND) these nerves are destroyed. This leads to your muscles becoming weak.

MND comes on gradually. It usually starts with reduced strength in an arm or leg or with swallowing or speech difficulties. It may be quite hard to diagnose in the early months, as the symptoms may not be obvious. Over time, movement becomes more difficult, and the diagnosis becomes clearer. Eventually breathing can be affected.

Diagnosing MND

If you're getting new symptoms that could suggest a neurological condition like MND, visit your general practice team. Your general practice team will perform some tests and arrange any further tests or referrals that may be needed to diagnose MND or to find another cause. If MND looks likely, your general practice team is likely to send you to see a neurologist for a formal diagnosis.

Treating MND

Unfortunately, there is no cure for MND. But a lot can be done to maintain your quality of life. Motor Neurone Disease Association of New Zealand has a lot of information about the condition and where to get help.

If you're diagnosed with MND, your specialist is likely to put you in contact with the Motor Neurone Disease Service Support. This is a team of Canterbury health professionals who work together to support patients with MND. The team includes an MND clinical nurse specialist who helps coordinate the clinical care provided to those with MND.

The team can help you with adjusting to your diagnosis and accommodating changing needs as they arise. This might mean arranging home support, rehabilitation with a physiotherapist, disability aids or equipment for use in the home from an occupational therapist or support from a speech-language therapist for concerns about swallowing. The service aims to respond quickly to the needs of patients with MND. Your general practice team or specialist is also likely to continue to help you with medications to control symptoms as they arise.

If you're diagnosed with MND, it's important to start to think about the future. You can make decisions in advance, so you're prepared when the disease gets worse. Communication may become difficult at some point so make sure to talk about the important issues before that happens. See Advanced Care Planning (ACP) for more information.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2022.

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See also:

Disability aids

Page reference: 42519

Review key: HIMND-38768