Motor neurone disease signs and symptoms as Coronation Street character receives diagnosis

·6 min read
Paul Foreman (Peter Ash) attends an appointment with the neurologist who tells him he might be suffering from onset motor neurone disease. (ITV/PA)
Paul Foreman (Peter Ash) attends an appointment with the neurologist who tells him he might be suffering from onset motor neurone disease. (ITV/PA)

Coronation Street is to explore living with motor neurone disease (MND) as one of the characters is diagnosed with the life-shortening condition.

The storyline will follow the challenges Paul Foreman will face as he loses his mobility along with his ability to eat and speak.

Actor Peter Ash, 38, said there is "so much responsibility" portraying a character living with MND to represent it properly and “not to cheapen it”.

MND is a fatal, rapidly progressing disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, attacking the nerves that control movement so muscles no longer work and currently, it has no cure, the MND Association said.

Read more: Motor neurone disease has left me unable to speak, walk or feed myself but I’m determined to enjoy life

Coronation Street has been working on the storyline with the charity whose experts have been advising the soap's researchers, scriptwriters and actors since last autumn to ensure it is an "accurate portrayal".

The soap will follow the progression of the disease as Foreman becomes "locked in a body that is failing".

Speaking about portraying the physical effects of the illness Ash says: "I've been eased into it.

"It started with Paul’s hand but I’m very aware as the time goes on and as the symptoms progress, it'll get a lot more technical.

"So I’m sure as the symptoms pile up, I’m going to be speaking a lot more with the MND Association to make sure we get it all right. It’s quite a journey that he’ll be going on."

Paul Ash says he feels a big responsibility in portraying his character's challenges of living with motor neurone disease. (PA Images)
Paul Ash says he feels a big responsibility in portraying his character's challenges of living with motor neurone disease. (PA Images)

He went on to discuss the responsibility of "representing it properly": "We act it but there are people watching who are living with it so it’s very important to get it right and be spot on with it, be sensitive."

While he was initially shocked to discover the future of his character because the nature of the life-shortening disease will mean his eventual exit from the show, he says he's glad to be shining a light on the condition.

"I’ll be sad to leave the show, but also at the same time, happy to be involved in such a powerful storyline that hopefully will bring awareness," he adds.

The storyline will also follow the impact the diagnosis has on his loved ones, including his on-screen boyfriend Billy Mayhew played by Daniel Brocklebank.

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Daniel Brocklebank has some personal experience of motor neurone disease having nursed a family member with the condition. (PA Images)
Daniel Brocklebank has some personal experience of motor neurone disease having nursed a family member with the condition. (PA Images)

The 43-year-old actor, whose grandfather died of MND 20 years ago, said his own experiences of the disease will hopefully translate to the show.

"They told me what the storyline was going to be but they had no idea of my history with MND or with the association, so it was a bit of a shock," Brocklebank, who is an MND ambassador, explains.

"My legs went a little bit weak because I suppose it just brings back memories of that time. I did wonder if this could potentially be quite triggering in a lot of ways.

"I’m hoping I might be able to bring some of my personal experience into the playing of this storyline, having been somebody who did in real life help to care for somebody with MND."

Brocklebank believes he won’t have trouble accessing the emotion to play the part but says "the pressure will be trying not to burst into tears".

Commenting on the storyline Chris James, director of external affairs at the MND Association, says: "We are really grateful to the team at Coronation Street for choosing to tackle this subject.

"Putting MND in front of six million viewers every week will raise incredible awareness and help educate people who have never come across the disease, showing the day-to-day reality of those living with it and the impact on friends, family and the wider community."

What is MND?

MND is a fatal neurological disease which attacks the nerves that control movement so muscles no longer work, according to the MND Association.

The charity says these nerves – motor neurones – control muscle activity like walking, speaking, swallowing and breaking.

But as they are attacked, the brain’s messages gradually stop reaching muscles, leading to weakness and wasting followed by severe paralysis and breathing difficulties.

The MND Association says mental abilities and senses are not usually affected as the body degenerates.

The astrophysicist Professor Stephen Hawking had the condition for many decades.

What are the early symptoms of MND?

The NHS says MND symptoms occur gradually so may not be obvious at first.

Early symptoms can include:

  • weakness in your ankle or leg – you might trip, or find it harder to climb stairs

  • slurred speech, which may develop into difficulty swallowing some foods

  • a weak grip – you might drop things, or find it hard to open jars or do up buttons

  • muscle cramps and twitches

  • weight loss – your arms or leg muscles may have become thinner over time

  • difficulty stopping yourself from crying or laughing in inappropriate situations

You should see a GP if you have possible early symptoms of motor neurone disease, such as muscle weakness. It's unlikely you have motor neurone disease, but getting a correct diagnosis as early as possible can help you get the care and support you need.

Read more: I spent a year in chronic pain before discovering how to use the mind-body connection to cure it

Risk factors of MND

Motor neurone disease is an uncommon condition that mainly affects people in their 60s and 70s.

According to the MND Association, six people are diagnosed every day in the UK with the condition affecting about 5,000 people in the UK.

The organisation says it can affect any adult at any age, although most people are diagnosed over the age of 50 and men are at higher risk.

The NHS says having a close relative with motor neurone disease, or a related condition called frontotemporal dementia, can sometimes mean you're more likely to get it.

But it does not run in families in most cases.

While the NHS says it is caused by a problem with cells in the brain and motor neurones, it is not known why these cells and neurones gradually stop working over time.

While there is no cure for motor neurone disease it can be treated with occupational therapy and physical therapy. (Getty Images)
While there is no cure for motor neurone disease it can be treated with occupational therapy and physical therapy. (Getty Images)

How is MND treated and can it be cured?

There is no cure for MND and it is always fatal, according to the MND Association.

How long people live with the disease varies, with the charity saying more than half of those diagnosed die within two years.

But some survive for years, and even decades, like Professor Stephen Hawking, who lived for 50 more years after being diagnosed aged 21.

MND can be treated with occupational therapy, physiotherapy, a medicine called riluzole and medication to relieve muscle stiffness and help with saliva problems, the NHS says.

For more information, visit the NHS website.

For support, you can visit the Motor Neurone Disease Association or call the Brain & Spine Foundation on 0808 808 1000.

Additional reporting PA.