Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the brain that affects the transmission of messages to the muscles. It is characterized by tremor, stiffness of the muscles, and difficulty in initiating movements. Over one million Americans have Parkinson’s disease. It occurs most often in later life, but can also affect younger people. Men face almost twice the risk of developing the condition. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease, which means that it normally worsens over time, and usually, but not always, develops slowly.
No one knows for sure what causes Parkinson’s patients to develop the disease. There may be a genetic connection, and exposure to certain toxins may also be implicated.
What are the symptoms?
- Tremor or involuntary movements—Hands or limbs may exhibit an involuntary trembling, which lessens when the person is using the affected part. Involuntary movements of the hand are common, and the person may seem to be “rolling” something between the fingers.
- Rigidity of muscles; slowness of body movement—Posture may be stiff or stooped, with diminished movement of the arms and legs.
- Shuffling gait—The person may take small, cautious steps, or may alternate slow steps with rapid ones.
- Loss of facial mobility—The person’s face may seem to be expressionless.
- Speech difficulties—Speech may be slow and expressionless, and the voice a low-pitched monotone.
- Impaired balance—The person may have difficulty balancing or sitting up straight.
- Deteriorating handwriting—The person’s writing becomes cramped, smaller and more difficult to read.
How is Parkinson’s disease diagnosed?
At present, there are no laboratory tests that can confirm the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. In order to arrive at a diagnosis, the physician takes a family and health history from the person, and performs a thorough physical and neurological examination, observing the person’s movements and muscle function. The physician will also rule out other disorders that can cause similar symptoms. Early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is important so that appropriate treatment can begin.
Managing Parkinson’s disease
There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, with early diagnosis and an effective plan of treatment, the symptoms of the disease can often be controlled or lessened. Treatment varies widely for each individual, and may include:
- Medication therapy. A number of drugs can help control the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The correct drug or drugs, the dosage, the method of taking medication, and the risk of side effects of drugs vary from person to person, requiring careful physician supervision.
- Rehabilitative therapy. Physical, occupational and speech therapists can assess the patient’s abilities and needs, and provide exercises to help maintain the highest possible range of motion, muscle tone, balance and flexibility, and communication ability. Rehabilitation specialists may also help the patient select appropriate adaptive devices.
- Lifestyle alterations. Exercise helps maintain muscle tone and strength. A special diet may be prescribed to help the patient maintain an appropriate weight. Rest and stress reduction are also important.
Support groups and counseling are available to help the patient and family members deal with the social and emotional impact of Parkinson’s disease, and to help patients maintain maximum independence and quality of life.
For More Information
The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation [link to: https://www.pdf.org/en/index] sponsors National Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Visit their website for updates and information about living with Parkinson’s [add link to: https://www.pdf.org/en/living_pd].
The National Parkinson Foundation [add link to: https://www.parkinson.org] offers extensive information and support for people who are living with Parkinson’s, as well as resources for family caregivers [add link to: https://www.parkinson.org/caregivers.aspx].
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