Parkinson’s Disease: What You Need to Know

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive condition associated with the nervous system. It develops when there is a destruction of the brain cells that produce dopamine, a chemical released by your neurons that’s important in initiating motor movement. A steadily decreasing level of dopamine will gradually affect movement and muscle control. To date, there is still no cure, however, medical advancements have generated pharmacological treatments for mitigating symptoms and potentially slowing the progression of the disease. Experts have not yet pinned down exactly what causes the brain cell destruction.

Globally, 10 million people are estimated to have Parkinson’s. Adults above 50 years old are at risk of developing Parkinson’s due to ageing, genetics, and environmental factors. In rare cases, some individuals manifest symptoms of the disease in their late 20s or 30s, a condition known as early-onset Parkinson’s.

What are the Common Symptoms of Parkinson’s?

Tremors. Some 70 percent of individuals with Parkinson’s have tremors, which start on one side of the body while it’s at rest and eventually become uncontrollable. There is, however, a small percentage of Parkinson’s patients who don’t experience this symptom at all. Instead, they develop mechanical back pains.

Rigidity. The muscles of a person with Parkinson’s can become rigid or contracted even when the body is in a relaxed state. Rigid muscles can also cause pain and discomfort, hence you might struggle with simple activities like walking or standing up.

Bradykinesia. Slowed movements or freezing feet or legs can happen often to people with Parkinson’s. Moving spontaneously becomes a struggle and reflexes slow down as well. In some cases, you might even develop a blank facial expression.

Parkinson’s disease also manifests secondary symptoms that are not related to body movements:

  • Incontinence
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Sleep disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty in swallowing or speaking
  • Changes in voice or speech

How Do Doctors Diagnose Parkinson’s?

During its early stage, Parkinson’s might be hard to diagnose because of the unique presentation of the signs and symptoms in every individual. Doctors won’t always be able to determine the actual condition until years later when the disease has already progressed and cardinal manifestations can be readily observed. Patients who find out about their condition earlier, however, have a better prognosis than patients who receive the diagnosis in their older years.

Initially, you’ll need to consult with an internist if you suspect the possibility of Parkinson’s disease. If your doctor suspects Parkinson’s disease, he or she might even refer you to a neurologist to better diagnose and treat your condition.

Diagnostic tests for Parkinson’s aren’t standard but, depending on what you disclose, the doctor might:

  • Ask you to do basic movements like getting up from the chair, rotating your neck, and walking in a straight line.
  • Observe your hands and arms for signs of tremors.
  • Observe your face for unusual movements and facial expressions.
  • Do balance checks by pulling your body backward to see how quickly you regain your position.

Your doctor might also require blood tests and imaging tests to help rule out other possible illnesses that can be the actual cause of the symptoms.

It’s devastating for families when someone has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, hence, the issue should be treated with care and sensitivity.

How Can You Live Well With Parkinson’s Disease?

Treating and managing Parkinson’s entail different approaches in the absence of an actual cure. The management is generally geared towards alleviating the symptoms and improving the quality of life. Understand that there will be a need for constant consultations and dialogues between the patient and his or her doctors, specialists, caregivers, and healthcare providers.

Home safety

People with Parkinson’s find it hard to initiate and control coordinated body movements, making them prone to fall injuries. It is important to ensure that their home is safe for them to live in. Walking surfaces must be non-skid and stable, free of clutter and trailing wires. There should be adequate lighting, especially in the hallways and the bathroom and pathways should be wide enough to let a wheelchair through. Stairs should be equipped with sturdy banisters so that they can hold onto them for support. To ensure eating experiences without frustration, Parkinson’s sufferers can use spoons that are specially designed for to counteract tremors.

Medications

You can take prescribed medications if the symptoms interfere with your day-to-day routines. These contain dopamine replacements that will lessen the tremors and involuntary movements. Medications, however, have side effects that might aggravate non-movement symptoms like insomnia and constipation.

Surgery

When medications no longer help control the tremors, other patients opt for surgery or deep brain stimulation (DBS). Surgeons place a thin metal electrode in the brain that is attached to a pulse generator implanted onto the skin near the collarbone. During regular visits to the doctor, these mechanisms are adjusted through a computer.

Therapies

Physical, occupational, and speech therapies are vital to people with Parkinson’s. These specialists will help you live your life more comfortably.

  • Work with a physical therapist on exercises that will help strengthen your muscles and improve your balance. You’ll also need their guidance on how to walk properly using mobility aids such as canes or walkers so that you won’t fall or trip.
  • Work with an occupational therapist to guide you in achieving a proper posture and managing body pain while sitting and lying down. You’ll also learn how to use the toilet properly, use handrails or banisters, get in and out of bed, and write legibly despite your condition. Some of them even provide driving tips and guides for people with Parkinson’s.
  • Work with a speech therapist to help you with your swallowing and talking difficulties.

In some cases, you might need to undergo a psychological therapy to help manage anxiety and depression as well as sleep disorders. Taking care of your mental and emotional well-being bears impact on your general health and quality of life. Bear in mind that Parkinson’s is unique in every patient. You shouldn’t necessarily compare your case with someone you know who has the same disease.

This article is a guest post by Joe Fleming

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