The following language has been used to describe HD related behavior. It’s helpful to understand which of these terms best describe the person you know with Huntington's disease.
Anger is an emotion that motivates and energizes us to act. It is a natural response when personal rights have been violated, or a person has been wronged. It can be a healthy and reasonable response, with positive consequences.
Irritability is a prolonged emotional state or mood in which a person can be short-tempered or easily annoyed. Often, it results from periods of fatigue, excessive stress, or pushing ourselves beyond our limits. It rarely results in positive consequences.
Aggression is a behavior motivated by an intent to cause harm to another person who wishes to avoid harm. In other words, an altercation between two people only one of whom wants to cause the other harm is more than a fight, it’s aggression. Aggression can be defensive or offensive. It is often a form of communication but is never constructive.
Violence is an extreme subtype of aggression, a physical behavior with the intent to seriously injure or kill another person. It can be impulsive or premeditated, based in disordered thought processes or cool-headed planning.
Agitation is a state of psychological and physical restlessness, manifested by pacing, hand-wringing, gesturing, hostility, excitement or distress. It can be associated with disease states, such as delirium or dementia, or related to distressing psychological factors. Understanding the difference between aggression and agitation in people with HD requires that the observer understand the circumstances around the behavior, taking into consideration the demands of the environment and the stressors that could potentially precipitate the behavior.
There are reports in the medical literature and in case law that describe individuals with HD who demonstrate the broad range of these behaviors. It’s important to note that sensational descriptions of HD related behavior make good news and garner intense social media attention. It doesn’t mean, however, that aggression will inevitably happen in your family, especially with knowledgeable medical care, good preparations and planning for change, stressors, and disease progression.