Vol. 5, No. 2, 1999 Page 7

Huntington’s disease and minor crime

Men who carry the gene for Huntington’s disease commit more than their share of crimes, according to a recent study by Danish researchers.

P. Jensen et al. compared 250 patients with Huntington’s disease (99 men and 151 women) to non-affected relatives, and to a matched group of control subjects. The researchers report, “In male patients, crime rates were significantly increased compared wi ith first degree relatives and controls.” In particular, Huntington’s patients’ drunk driving rates far exceeded those of relatives and controls. Females with Huntington’s disease did not have an increased rate of criminality.

“The crimes committed seem to be of relatively minor severity,” the researchers say, “and are probably closely linked to the personality changes often seen as a result of the disease process, although depressive reactions to the dis sease, with secondary alcohol misuse, may also play a part.”

Huntington’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder with symptoms usually appearing between the ages of 30 and 50. The progressive disease initially causes clumsiness, memory lapses, depression, mood swings, and sometimes aggressive or antisocial behavi ior. Other symptoms include slurred speech, an intoxicated appearance, unsteady gait, and poor judgment. Approximately 30,000 Americans have the disorder.


“Crime in Huntington’s disease: a study of registered offences (sic) among patients, relatives, and controls,” P. Jensen, K. Fenger, T. G. Bolwig, and S. A Sorensen, Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, Vol. 65, No. 4, October 1998, pp. 467-471. Address: P. Jensen, Kommunehospitalet, University Hospital, Department of Psychiatry, Copenhagen, Denmark.

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