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Award-winning actor David Niven lost his ability to speak

Motor Neurone Disease: Expert on early signs and symptoms

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During his prime, David Niven starred in Around The World In 80 Days (1956), The Pink Panther (1963), and Murder By Death (1976). In his later years, however, a neurological disease impacted his day-to-day life, which came to an end on July 29, 1983. Remembering back to the final few months when his father was alive, David Junior, described how motor neurone disease (MND) affected them both.

“It was absolutely heartbreaking for me to see him like that, so very frail and skinny,” Junior told the Daily Mail. “Those last few months of his life were a nightmare for both of us.”

In the 2009 interview, Junior said his father “could still walk”, but the disease had made it hard for David to eat.

“The disease had affected the muscles in his throat so all he could eat was mushy food, which he would put into his mouth and then massage his throat to get it all down,” Junior explained.

“He must have burned 105 calories trying to consume 100 calories of food, and he went from 230lb to 110lb.”

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Junior added information on how the condition affected David’s ability to communicate.

“Out of every 20 words he said, only one could be understood, which was very frustrating for him because his mind was unaffected and had been such a marvellous storyteller,” Junior said.

Despite the setbacks experienced because of MND, Junior revealed his father had a “very stiff upper lip about it all”.

When he was still able to talk, earlier on in the condition, David quipped: “Maybe this is God’s way of saying you have told enough stories over the years and it’s someone else’s turn to be the life and soul of the party.”

“But it was very hard for him,” Junior confessed. “He travelled the world searching for a cure.”

Junior added: “But there is none for this cruel disease, and it took away what was so very special about my father.”

Now, in 2023, there is still no cure for MND, the NHS states, but treatments are available to help relieve symptoms of the disease.

What is MND?

MDN is a “rare condition that progressively damages parts of the nervous system”, the national health service says.

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Specialist nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, called motor neurones, stop working and die prematurely.

The symptoms of MND begin gradually, typically appearing on one side of the body first.

In the earliest stages of the disease, MND can lead to a weakened grip, which can cause issues with picking up or holding objects.

There can be weakness in the shoulder, which makes it difficult to lift the arm above the head.

People who have MND may find that they’re tripping up over their own foot because of weakness in the ankle or hip.

As the condition progresses, it can lead to excessive yawning, saliva problems and emotional changes.

MND can also lead to speaking and swallowing difficulties, like it did with David Niven.

David Niven starred in A Matter Of Life And Death, showcasing on BBC Two on Sunday, February 5 at 2.45pm.

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