WHAT IS PARKINSON’S DISEASE?
According to the American Parkinson Disease Association, Parkinson's disease mostly affects older people but can also occur in younger adults. The symptoms are the result of the gradual degeneration of nerve cells in the portion of the midbrain that controls body movements. The first signs are likely to be barely noticeable, a feeling of weakness or stiffness in one limb, or a fine trembling of one hand when it is at rest. Eventually, the shaking (tremor) worsens and spreads, muscles become stiffer, movements slow down, and balance and coordination deteriorate. As the disease progresses, depression, cognitive issues, and other mental or emotional problems are common.
Parkinson's disease usually begins between the ages of 50 and 65, striking about 1% of the population in that age group; it is slightly more common in men than in women. Medication can treat its symptoms and decrease the disability.
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?
Body movements are regulated by a portion of the brain called the basal ganglia, whose cells require a proper balance of two substances called dopamine and acetylcholine, both involved in the transmission of nerve impulses. In Parkinson's, cells that produce dopamine begin to degenerate, throwing off the balance of these two neurotransmitters. Researchers believe that genetics sometimes plays a role in this cellular breakdown. In rare instances, Parkinson's disease may be caused by a viral infection or by exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides, carbon monoxide, or the metal manganese. But in the great majority of Parkinson's cases, the cause is unknown.
What Are the Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease?
Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder that progresses slowly. Some people will first notice a sense of weakness, difficulty walking, and stiff muscles. Others may notice a tremor of the head or hands. Parkinson's is a progressive disorder and the symptoms gradually worsen. The general symptoms of Parkinson's disease include:
Slowness of voluntary movements, especially in the initiation of walking or rolling over in bed
Decreased facial expression, monotonous speech, and decreased eye blinking
A shuffling gait with poor arm swing and stooped posture
Unsteady balance; difficulty rising from a sitting position
Continuous "pill-rolling" motion of the thumb and forefinger
Abnormal tone or stiffness in the trunk and extremities
Swallowing problems in later stages
Lightheadedness or fainting when standing
What Are the Treatments for Parkinson's Disease?
For people with Parkinson's disease, there are a lot of choices for treatment. There's no cure, but medicine and sometimes surgery can help. Medicine can often keep your symptoms in check for years. Doctors may suggest you try one of the latest available drugs for treating Parkinson’s.
What is Young Onset Parkinson's Disease?
Young Onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD) occurs in people younger than 50 years of age. Most people with typical PD develop symptoms at 50 years of age or older.
YOPD affects about 4% of the one million people with PD in the United States. Symptoms are similar to late onset PD but it is important to understand the challenges YOPD individuals often face at a financial, family and employment levels. If diagnosed with young-onset PD, it is important to seek treatment from a movement disorder specialist or a neurologist with expertise in movement disorders. Each person’s treatment is unique and can require adjustments of multiple medications. Deep brain stimulations remain a surgical option for people with young-onset PD.
People diagnosed with YOPD have a more frequent family history of Parkinson’s disease and a longer survival. People living with young-onset PD may experience:
Slower progression of PD symptoms
More side effects from dopaminergic medications
More frequent dystonia (cramping and abnormal postures) such as arching of the foot
How to manage daily living with Parkinson’s?
Although there are typical symptoms of PD, these can vary greatly from individual to individual, both in terms of their intensity and how they progress. Motor symptoms generally involve movement, while non-motor symptoms do not.
Motor symptoms typically include tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia (slow movement), postural instability (balance problems), and walking/gait problems. Non motor symptoms include, sleep problems, altered sense of smell, fatigue, depression/anxiety, impaired mental processes, gastrointestinal issues and others.
Exercise: Starting or continuing a schedule of regular exercise can make a big difference in your mobility, both in the short and long term. People with Parkinson’s disease also report the physical (and mental) benefits of swimming, cycling, dancing, and even non-contact boxing. In fact, several research studies have shown that regular exercise routines of walking, strength training, or Tai Chi can help to maintain, or even improve, mobility, balance, and coordination in people with PD.
Diet: There is no one diet that is recommended for PD, but healthy eating in general is always a good choice. For example, eating several servings of fruits and vegetables a day increases fiber intake and can help alleviate constipation, in addition to promoting general health.
Medications: Although there is no cure for PD, there are several classes of medications available for the successful treatment of motor symptoms throughout the course of the disease. Be sure to talk with your general neurologist or movement disorder specialist about your most troubling symptoms and your goals for medical therapy
Assembling a capable health care team: Developing and maintaining relationships with experts in the field of Parkinson’s disease can make life easier and more enjoyable. Your team members and the role or roles they assume are likely to change as your symptoms change and as the disease progresses.
Accessing Disability Benefits: If you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you may be concerned about continuing to work and make a living for yourself and your family. Because Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, you may find work more challenging as time goes on. Understand your disability benefits.
Participating in Clinical Trials: Clinical trials also contribute to the further treatment and understanding of Parkinson’s disease and potentially provide access to the newest therapies.
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