Individuals with Huntington disease (HD), a rare neurological disease, experience impairments in mobility and cognition throughout their disease course. The Medical Research Council framework provides a schema that can be applied to the development and evaluation of complex interventions, such as those provided by physical therapists. Treatment-based classifications, based on expert consensus and available literature, are helpful in guiding physical therapy management across the stages of HD. Such classifications also contribute to the development and further evaluation of well-defined complex interventions in this highly variable and complex neurodegenerative disease. The purpose of this case series was to illustrate the use of these classifications in the management of 2 individuals with late-stage HD.
Two females, 40 and 55 years of age, with late-stage HD participated in this case series. Both experienced progressive declines in ambulatory function and balance as well as falls or fear of falling. Both individuals received daily care in the home for activities of daily living. Physical therapy Treatment-Based Classifications for HD guided the interventions and outcomes. Eight weeks of in-home balance training, strength training, task-specific practice of functional activities including transfers and walking tasks, and family/carer education were provided.
Both individuals demonstrated improvements that met or exceeded the established minimal detectible change values for gait speed and Timed Up and Go performance. Both also demonstrated improvements on Berg Balance Scale and Physical Performance Test performance, with 1 of the 2 individuals exceeding the established minimal detectible changes for both tests. Reductions in fall risk were evident in both cases.
These cases provide proof-of-principle to support use of treatment-based classifications for physical therapy management in individuals with HD. Traditional classification of early-, mid-, and late-stage disease progression may not reflect patients’ true capabilities; those with late-stage HD may be as responsive to interventions as those at an earlier disease stage.