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Mood and Behavior Changes (Psychiatric)

Emotional and Behavioral Changes

Huntington’s Disease damages a part of the brain connected with many important areas that help control thinking, moving, and mood. That trio of affected areas can cause changes in personality creating challenges for people living with the person with HD.  It’s important to understand what some of those changes are and how they occur. 

Changes in behavior start with damage to parts of the brain. The part of the brain responsible for organizing, planning, sequencing, and multitasking is also responsible for how people interact in relationships.  

Reasons for common mood and behavior changes include:

  • Having difficulty anticipating the social consequences of their behavior.

  • Having a hard time controlling emotions when a need or desire is unmet. Someone may quickly show frustration, agitation, or aggression because of not receiving what they want.

  • Saying or doing something embarrassing because of a lack inhibition.

  • Recognizing social cues and nonverbal communication (like an eye roll) become more difficult.

  • Learning becomes more difficult.

  • Taking longer to say what they’re thinking and respond to someone else.

  • Thinking slows down.

Common Behavior Changes for people with HD:

  • Avoiding dental and medical care.

  • Driving without permission.

  • Excessive alcohol use.

  • Gambling.

  • Use of narcotics and other substances

  • Not taking medication as prescribed.

  • Not using seat belts.

  • Smoking and vaping.

  • Unprotected sex with strangers.

Coping Strategies

  • Developing strict routines and a predictable schedule.
  • Giving extra reminders when something needs to be done.
  • Expecting tasks to be done slower.
  • Simplifying steps and breaking tasks into chunks to avoid overwhelming someone.
  • Learning a new way to do something will take time and patience. Don’t rush. HD slows down a person’s ability to learn. 
  • Punishing for not doing what is asked, doesn’t work. Save your eye rolls and deep sighs because they won’t make life easier. 
  • Distract a person to redirect them away from a problem behavior. Tips for distracting include: changing the subject, talk about good memories, give the person a fun and easy task, go for a walk, move to a different place, offer some comfort food, play music, start a new activity.