Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic movement disorder caused by the failure and death of vital nerve cells in the brain. These cells are called neurons. They are responsible for producing dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. The amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases as Parkinson’s disease progresses, leaving a person unable to control movement normally.

Parkinson’s disease usually affects people over the age of 50.

The early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are subtle and occur gradually, sometimes starting from a barely noticeable tremor in one hand. These symptoms worsen over time.

SymptomsCausesPrognosisDiagnosisTreatmentTips for Caregivers

The early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are subtle and occur gradually, sometimes starting from a barely noticeable tremor in one hand, however worsening over a period of time. Some of these symptoms are listed below:

  • Rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and torso
  • Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
  • Inability to move
  • Postural instability
  • Impaired balance and coordination
  • A shuffling gait
  • Stooped posture
  • Foot pain and toe curling
  • Depressionand other emotional changes
  • Difficulty in swallowing, chewing, and speaking
  • Urinary problemsor constipation
  • Skin problems
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Tremors or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face

 

The exact causes of Parkinson’s disease are unknown. There is, however, increasing evidence that
this disease is passed on genetically from family members. There is also some evidence that certain toxins in the environment may cause Parkinson’s disease.

Scientists have suggested that external or internal toxins may selectively destroy the dopaminergic neurons causing Parkinson’s disease. Toxins that may be linked to Parkinson’s include manganese, carbon monoxide, carbon disulfide and a few other pesticides.

Untreated, Parkinson’s disease worsens over years and may lead to a deterioration of brain functions and an early death. Life expectancy, however, is normal to near-normal for most treated patients.

Most people respond to medications but the extent of responsiveness and the duration of the drug effect vary from person to person.

The development and duration of movement-related symptoms also differs from person to person. The effect of these symptoms on everyday life varies depending on a person’s normal activities.

Non-motor symptoms also vary among patients. These symptoms affect most people with Parkinson’s at all stages of disease. Some people with Parkinson’s find symptoms such as depression or fatigue more cumbersome than the movement disorders.

 

There are currently no blood or laboratory tests proven to help in diagnosing sporadic Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, the diagnosis is based on medical history and a neurological examination.

Parkinson’s disease can be difficult to diagnose accurately. Doctors may sometimes request brain scans or laboratory tests in order to rule out other diseases.

Parkinson’s disease cannot be cured but medications can help control the symptoms dramatically. Doctors may also recommend lifestyle changes, especially ongoing aerobic exercise. In some cases, physical therapy that focuses on balance and stretching is also important.

Medications can help manage problems with walking, movement and tremor by increasing the brain’s supply of dopamine. Dopamine, however, cannot be directly administered to the brain.

After starting Parkinson’s disease treatment, the symptoms may significantly improve. However, with time, the benefits of drugs frequently diminish or become less consistent, although symptoms usually can continue to be fairly well-controlled.

 

A person diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease might need both physical and emotional support. They may particularly want someone to talk to. Following are things to keep in mind as a caregiver:

  • The symptoms of Parkinson’s change overtime. Thus, the care provided may also have to change with time.
  • Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder, meaning it develops over time. The person may rely on the caregiver for more support.
  • It’s important to gather more information about Parkinson’s. This might help one understand what kind of care is required.
  • Encourage the person to lead an active and normal life.
  • Always allow them to do things by themselves, even if it takes longer.
  • Be around the person as much as possible.

 

Following are points to watch out for as a caregiver:

  • Sleep problems. The disease and its medication can keep the patient drowsy during the day and awake all night. Fatigue can worsen the symptoms and prevent the person from looking after themselves. Try to keep the person active during the day and establish a regular bedtime routine.
  • Increase in symptoms. If medications are being taken properly but the severity of symptoms is increasing, report it to the doctor. The patient might need to be put on different medications.
  • Mood swings. Obsessive compulsive disorder is one of the side effects of Parkinson’s medications. Depression is also considered one of the symptoms of this disorder. Patients are known to suffer from periods of denial, anxiety and stress. Pay attention to their moods and talk to them about it.

 

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