Diagnosis of Huntington disease: A model for the stages of psychological response based on experience of a predictive testing program
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Persons diagnosed as affected with Huntington's disease (HD) may have similar stages of psychological response to the clinical presentation of the illness. Here we describe a model of these stages of response based on our experience during a predictive testing program for HD. During the Warning Stage, asymptomatic persons are aware of their risk status for HD and develop defenses which favor adaptation to their genetic risk. In response to the initial signs and symptoms of HD (the Incipient Stage) unconscious working through of this realization occurs while it is still kept out of conscious awareness. When symptoms become obvious such that recognition of disease onset is inevitable (Breakthrough Stage) the possibility of the diagnosis of HD is assimilated. After the delivery of the diagnosis during the Adjustment Stage, short- and long-term adaptive responses to living with HD occur. Recognition of the stage of psychological response of a patient who presents with HD is important prior to delivering a clinical diagnosis. In a significant minority of cases, the psychological readiness lags behind the clinical symptomatology and premature presentation of a diagnosis may result in significant untoward adverse events. Understanding of the stages of response may provide a framework for evaluating the psychological state of the person with HD and determining their readiness to receiving the diagnosis. This model may have relevance to the psychological responses of patients to the diagnosis of other late onset autosomal dominant disorders.
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