Motor Neuron Disease / ALS

  • Approximately 1 in 15,000 people currently have some form of MND
  • Over 300 New Zealanders have MND right now
  • Each week 2 New Zealanders die from MND
  • Up to 1 in every 300 people will develop MND
  • Average life expectancy is 2.5 years, with 5-10% living for ten years or more
  • 60% male, 40% female

Motor Neuron Disease (MND) is a degenerative neurological condition that causes the death of nerve cells (neurons) that control the muscles in the body. As these nerve cells die off the body can no longer activate these muscles, causing them to weaken and waste away.

Those with MND eventually become paralysed, gradually losing the ability to move, speak, swallow or even breathe. How quickly these symptoms progress varies greatly from person to person.

The most common form of MND is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease (after a famous American baseball player who suffered from the condition.)

MND usually develops in people over the age of 40. Symptoms normally advance rapidly and patients have an average life expectancy of only 2-3 years from diagnosis.

Signs and Symptoms:

Early symptoms of MND are mild and often go unnoticed, but the symptoms gradually become worse as the disease takes hold. Early warning signs may include stumbling, due to weakness in the legs, difficulty holding objects, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, cramps and muscle twitching.

As the disease progresses symptoms worsen. The disease affects everyone differently but symptoms are likely to include weakness, reduced mobility, impaired speech and breathing, weight loss, fatigue, cognitive and behavioural changes, and difficulty swallowing.

Causes and Treatment:

Around 10% of cases of MND are hereditary. In the remaining 90% of MND patients the cause is not known, but is believed to be a mix of genetic and environmental factors.

Research around the world is making progress in identifying the genetic factors associated with MND and understanding what role environmental factors, such as exposure to toxins or viral infection, might play in increasing the risk of contracting MND.

While there is still no cure for MND, treatment through medication and physical therapy can help to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. With your support, the Neurological Foundation can continue to fund researchers seeking to better understand MND in the hopes of one day being able to slow, prevent or even cure this disease. 

Support Organisations:

MND New Zealand -

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