Wheelchair Needs for the Client with Huntington’s Disease

Ask the Expert

At what point would you suggest fitting a client with Huntington’s Disease for a wheelchair?

Stuart Blatt, PT, PhD responds:

We try not to put people with Huntington’s in wheelchairs because the chairs tend to limit the use of balance. Huntington’s patients are used to using their balance. The more they move, the more their body adjusts to the chorea. If they are sitting instead of walking or using their balance and then try to get up to walk, their balance systems become diminished and causes them to fall more than they would if they were always standing and walking.

There is a very interesting video made by Dr. Nancy Wexler who was one of the team members that discovered the Huntington’s gene. They traced the gene back to a place in Venezuela called Lake Maracaibo. Lake Maracaibo was a water village where nearly 50% of the population had Huntington’s. The villagers regularly walk across water bridges to get from one hut to another while dealing with chorea and uncontrolled movements. The research team found that none of the villagers got wet. The villagers were not falling into the water because they had been walking across water bridges their whole lives. These bridges were unsteady. Their brains knew nothing about the chorea; they just learned to adjust and adapt and modify. If you take someone who has learned to adjust, adapt, and modify in order to walk and then you put them into a wheelchair and do not allow them to walk, their brains stop adjusting and modifying. At that point, when they want to walk, they will no longer have that ability. To read more, click here.

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