Specialist Support

Specialist support for service users with a range of conditions

Athena Care have knowledgeable staff experienced in the care of a wide range of medical conditions. Understanding these conditions provides a valuable insight into the care requirements associated with them and enables our care packages to be tailored accordingly.

Autonomic Dysreflexia

Also known as Hyperreflexia, is a potentially life threatening condition which can be considered a medical emergency requiring immediate attention. It occurs where the blood pressure in a person with a spinal cord injury (SCI) above T5-6 becomes excessively high due to the over activity of the Autonomic Nervous System.

The most common symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia are sweating, pounding headache, tingling sensation on the face and neck, blotchy skin around the neck and goose bumps.

Not all the symptoms always appear at once, and their severity may vary. In untreated and extreme cases of autonomic dysreflexia, it can lead to a stroke and death.

Brain Injury

An Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is brain damage caused by events after birth, rather than as part of a genetic or congenital disorder. It usually affects cognitive, physical, emotional, social or independent functioning and can result from either traumatic brain injury (e.g. physical trauma due to accidents, falls, assaults etc.) or non traumatic injury derived from either an internal or external source (e.g. stroke, brain tumours, infection, poisoning, hypoxia, ischemia, encephalopathy or substance abuse).

Most definitions of ABI exclude neurodegenerative disorders.


  • Alzheimer's Disease

where small clumps of protein, known as plaques, begin to develop around brain cells. This disrupts the normal workings of the brain.

  • Vascular Dementia

where problems with blood circulation result in parts of the brain not receiving enough blood and oxygen. Dementia with Lewy bodies, where abnormal structures, known as Lewy bodies, develop inside the brain.

  • Frontotemporal Dementia

where the frontal and temporal lobes (two parts of the brain) begin to shrink. Unlike other types of dementia, frontotemporal dementia usually develops in people who are under 65. It is much rarer than other types of dementia.


Epilepsy is the most common, serious, neurological condition and is defined as a tendency to have recurrent seizures. A seizure is caused by a sudden burst of excess electrical activity in the brain. There are around 40 different types of seizure and a person may have more than one type. Epilepsy can affect anyone at any age and from any walk of life.

The age standardised prevalence rate of epilepsy in the UK is 7.5 per 1,000. This is equivalent to 1:131 people. However, epilepsy prevalence is 25% higher in the most socially deprived areas compared to the least socially deprived areas. In adults, the social and economic disadvantages resulting from epilepsy can lead to a downward social mobility. This leads to a higher prevalence of epilepsy in deprived areas. Also, more than one in five people with epilepsy have learning or intellectual disabilities.

70% of the population with epilepsy could be seizure free with optimal treatment. Currently this is achieved for only 52%, meaning some 69,000 of those experiencing seizures in England could be seizure free. Every year approximately 990 people die of epilepsy related causes including sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Of these, approximately 365 deaths are young adults and children. Of the total number of deaths, about 400 per year are potentially avoidable.

Friedreich's Ataxia

An inherited disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system resulting in symptoms ranging from gait disturbance and speech problems to heart disease. It is named after the physician Nicholaus Friedreich, who first described the condition in the 1860s. "Ataxia," which refers to coordination problems such as clumsy or awkward movements and unsteadiness, occurs in many different diseases and conditions.

The ataxia of Friedreich's ataxia results from the degeneration of nerve tissue in the spinal cord and of nerves that control muscle movement in the arms and legs. The spinal cord becomes thinner and nerve cells lose some of their myelin sheath — the insular covering on all nerve cells that helps conduct nerve impulses.

Friedreich's ataxia, although rare, is the most prevalent inherited ataxia, affecting about 1 in every 50,000 people in the United States. Males and females are affected equally.


Guillain-Barré syndrome (pronounced Ghee-lan Bar-ray) is a rare but serious disease of the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is the network of nerves that control the body's senses and movements.

In Guillain-Barré syndrome, the body's immune system attacks these nerves, causing them to become inflamed (swollen). Inflammation of the peripheral nerves leads to a tingly, numbing sensation in the arms and legs. This can eventually result in a short-term loss of feeling and movement (temporary paralysis).

Learning Difficulties

The unknown factor is the disorder that affects the brain's ability to receive and process information. This disorder can make it problematic for a person to learn as quickly or in the same way as someone who isn't affected by a learning disability.

Learning disability is not indicative of intelligence level. Rather, people with a learning disability have trouble performing specific types of skills or completing tasks if left to figure things out by themselves or if taught in conventional ways.

Mental Health Difficulties

A mental health illness is a psychological or behavioral pattern associated with distress or disability that occurs in an individual and is not a part of normal development or culture. The recognition and understanding of mental health conditions has changed over time and across cultures, and there are still variations in the definition, assessment, and classification of mental disorders, although standard guideline criteria are widely accepted.

Currently, mental disorders are conceptualized as disorders of brain circuits likely caused by developmental processes shaped by a complex interplay of genetics and experience. In other words, the genetics of mental illness may really be the genetics of brain development, with different outcomes possible, depending on the biological and environmental context.

Over a third of people in most countries report meeting criteria for the major categories at some point in their life. The causes are often explained in terms of a diathesis-stress model and biopsychosocial model. Services are based in psychiatric hospitals or in the community. Diagnoses are made by psychiatrists or clinical psychologists using various methods, often relying on observation and questioning in interviews. Treatments are provided by various mental health professionals.

Motor Neurone Disease (MND)

Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks the upper and lower motor neurones. Degeneration of the motor neurones leads to weakness and wasting of muscles, causing increasing loss of mobility in the limbs, and difficulties with speech, swallowing and breathing.

Multiple Sclerosis

MS is the most common disabling neurological condition in young adults, affecting around 85,000 people in the UK. It is most often diagnosed in people between 20 and 40, and affects three times more females than males. Diagnosis of this highly complex, variable condition can have significant psychological and psychosocial impacts. 85% of people diagnosed have relapsing remitting MS and, of these, half will develop the secondary progressive form within ten years of diagnosis.

This form is characterised by worsening symptoms and fewer remissions. 10% to 15% of people are diagnosed with primary progressive MS in which symptoms develop and worsen. Although its cause is not known and a cure has yet to be identified, some treatments are available and specialist care can help people to manage symptoms. Approximately 2,500 new cases of MS are diagnosed each year, about 50 new cases per week in England and Wales. The prevalence of MS increases the further north one travels in the UK, from 1:800 in England to 1:500 in Scotland.

Multiple System Atrophy (MSA)

Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) is a rare, progressive neurodegenerative disorder, caused by cell loss in certain areas of the brain leading to a variety of symptoms affecting especially the functions of the autonomic nervous system and the motor system, causing various combinations of parkinsonism, ataxia, corticospinal motor signs, and postural hypotension or urinary incontinence.

Physical Disabilities

Persons with physical disabilities may experience functional, visual, orthopedic, motor, or hearing impairments, which may impact upon their ability to walk, play and learn. Physical disabilities are also often defined and categorized by some degree of limitation in the use of upper or lower extremities and maintaining posture and positioning.

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's is a progressive neurodegenerative condition, caused by the loss of dopamine producing nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls movement. There is no cure for Parkinson's. Symptoms and progression vary significantly from person to person. Although predominantly a movement disorder, other impairments frequently develop including depression, dementia, sleep disturbances, bowel and bladder problems.

Treating Parkinson's is complex, and involves combining drug and other therapies in an individual care plan, including professionals from a wide MDT.

It is estimated that there are 120,000 people with Parkinson's across the UK, which equates to 1:500 of the population. The prevalence increases with age and one in 20 will be under the age of 40 when they are diagnosed, representing a significant number of younger people with Parkinson's.

Progessive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP)

Involves the progressive death of neurons (nerve endings) in the brain, mainly in the basal ganglia and brainstem, just above the nuclei (hence 'supranuclear' being a key part of its name).

The area affected in PSP controls balance, movement, vision (particularly upgaze and downgaze) speech and the ability to swallow, hence the main symptoms, some of which may not appear or progress at all or until later in the disease. Other symptoms, including behavioural changes and weight-loss, may appear.

Over time PSP can rob a person of the ability to walk, talk, feed themselves or communicate effectively with the world around them, yet they usually remain mentally alert.

PSP affects people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and above, the average age of onset being 62. Like other neurodegenerative diseases, PSP gets worse over time. The average life expectancy of a patient is some seven years, but it is a very individual disease and the rate of progression of symptoms varies considerably from person to person.

Reduced Life Expectancy

'Palliative care' is a term which is intended to refer to the medical, nursing and other ways of relieving the distress of patients with advanced incurable diseases, mainly cancer, and of providing support for the patients' families.

Sensory Impairment

Can be a single impairment of sight or hearing or a dual sensory impairment where both sight hearing are affected. This ranges from being deaf and blind, to being hard of hearing and partially sighted.

Spinal Cord Injury

A Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is damage or trauma to the spinal cord that results in a loss or impaired function causing reduced mobility or feeling. Common causes of damage are trauma (car accident, gunshot, falls, sports injuries, etc.) or disease (Transverse Myelitis, Polio, Spina Bifida, Friedreich's Ataxia, etc.). The spinal cord does not have to be severed in order for a loss of functioning to occur. In most people with SCI, the spinal cord is intact, but the cellular damage to it results in loss of functioning. SCI is very different from back injuries such as ruptured disks, spinal stenosis or pinched nerves.

It is possible for a person to "break their back or neck" yet not sustain a spinal cord injury as long as only the bones (the vertebrae) around the spinal cord are damaged, but the spinal cord is not affected. In these cases, the person may not experience paralysis after the vertebrae are stabilized.