What is ataxia

The long list of symptoms which affects an individual with Tay-Sachs includes ataxia. It is something which you will notice but will probably be unaware that the condition has a name – you are more than likely to be told by the doctor that your child will have “co-ordination problems”. We have tried to put together an explanation of ataxia based on the medical description.


The medical explanation is shown below:

“Ataxia is a neurological sign and symptom that consists of gross lack of coordination of muscle movements. Ataxia is a non-specific clinical manifestation implying dysfunction of the parts of the nervous system that coordinate movement, such as the cerebellum.”

This is basically saying that ataxia is the name given to a group of neurological disorders that affect balance, coordination, and speech. There are many different types of ataxia that can affect people in different ways.

Why does ataxia occur in an individual

Ataxia is a symptom of many different conditions (such as Tay-Sachs) but may also occur due to other factors like a head injury. Ataxia can also be caused by a faulty gene where the most common is called Friedreich’s ataxia. However, there are still many people who do not have a diagnosis for their inherited ataxia which is why there is on-going research into the condition.

Tay-Sachs and ataxia

Anyone of any age can get ataxia, but certain types are more common in certain age groups (Friedreich’s ataxia are usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence). Individuals with Tay-Sachs have a progressive form of ataxia which becomes more obvious as the disease develops. They lose muscle co-ordination, have gaint problems (more prominent in the Juvenile and LOTS forms of Tay-Sachs) and lose the ability to function independently.

Although some forms of ataxia are treatable, in most cases (including those with Tay-Sachs) there is nothing which can be done other than make things more comfortable for the individual.

Helping someone with ataxia

Helping someone with ataxia can range from helping them to getting around or becoming their full-time carer – it all depends on how severe the ataxia itself is.

You can see a brilliant and moving video by Ataxia UK on living and working with ataxia below.

Daniel is the father of a little girl called Amelie who was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs in March 2011 when she was 15 months old. After slowly coming to terms with what the future held, Daniel, his wife Patricia and their friends started THE CATS FOUNDATION to raise awareness of the disease and to provide fund raising opportunities so that a potential treatment can be found.

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