November is amaryllis month, named after the emblem of the fight against Huntington disease.
Huntington disease is an inherited brain disorder that is relatively rare (1 case for every 10,000 people). It strikes men and women equally, regardless of their ethnic background. While children can develop the disease, the first symptoms usually appear between the ages of 30 and 50. It is caused by a defective gene on chromosome 4, called the HD gene. Due to the way the gene is transmitted, when people with Huntington disease have children, their children have a 50% chance of developing the disease. Huntington disease often develops stealthily, appearing first as subtle changes in behaviour (e.g. you will notice the person is getting clumsier) and can progress for years before it is diagnosed. It causes a gradual deterioration in motor skills (e.g. involuntary movements, coordination problems, difficulty walking or talking) and in mental skills (e.g. inability to concentrate or make decisions, memory loss). It is also associated with psychiatric changes (e.g. depression, social withdrawal, mood swings). People with Huntington disease gradually lose their autonomy until they depend entirely on others. There is currently no treatment to cure Huntington disease, but medication can be used to relieve some of its symptoms. There is a genetic screening test that can be used on the children of persons with the disease, to determine whether they are also carrying the defective gene. To support research on the disease, the Huntington Society of Canada sells amaryllis bulbs during the month of November.