It’s Motor Neuron Disease week !

Here in Australia this year, the week from May 6-12 is Motor Neuron disease week. Now you may ask, what is a motor neuron, and why should I care ? Well, let me tell you.

MND is a term that describes a bunch of conditions where those affected eventually lose motor control, which means control over their sceletal muscles, be that muscles used to walk, or to breathe, or to speak. The condition is often called Lou Gehrig’s disease in North America, after the New York Yankees baseball player who was diagnosed with it in 1939. The widest known victim of MND is probably Stephen Hawking, and the reason he is still alive today is that he has a rather “mild” form of a condition known as ALS, which otherwise leads to death within years.

Now, let me explain to you what happens in MND. Here in Australia, MND kills about 600 people every year, and around 1400 patients and their families are living with MND as we speak. First, we have to understand what is meant by motor neuron. Here is a simplified schematic :

A nerve cell in the brain (the upper motor neuron) sends out a long tail down the spinal cord, that ends at another specialised nerve cell, the lower motor neuron, which connects to a muscle and makes that muscle contract. See here :

In ALS, for example, both the upper and lower motor neuron get damaged and eventually die, leading to first clumsiness, weakness or spasticity of the affected muscle, and then eventually to paralysis and loss of function, which once it involves the muscles needed for breathing, is a death sentence for the individual, and as a bonus this may be experienced fully awake and in possession of all mental faculties, since the brain is not involved in the decline. This is surely what hell would be like, were there a god and a devil who could conceive of such things.

There is not much in the cure department at this stage, and we don’t even have any good ideas as to what causes this condition. But it is out there, and those suffering from it need our support. So during this MND week, consider giving some money for the cause, or just lobby your local MP for the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which would really help those who suffer from, or get diagnosed with, MND.

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