Parkinson’s Disease is a complex neurological disorder whose cause remains a mystery. An estimated one and a half million people in the United States have Parkinson’s Disease (PD). PD affects about 1 in 100 Americans. It is usually diagnosed in individuals over the age of 60, but it has been identified, though less commonly, at younger ages. Early PD symptoms are subtle and may even come and go. Diagnosis can sometimes be difficult and uncertain. It is important to see a neurologist who is knowledgeable about movement disorders, such as PD, to confirm the diagnoses and to address the concerns of the patient and the family.
The four main motor symptoms of PD are:
- Tremor – rhythmic shaking of a part of your body usually beginning with a hand or a foot
- Bradykinesia – slowness of movement
- Rigidity – stiffness of the arms, legs or trunk
- Postural instability – difficulty with balance
Most symptoms of PD are caused by the lack of dopamine and other chemicals within the brain. To date, there is no cure for PD. Current treatments focus on medications that temporarily replace the dopamine in the brain, thereby helping to reduce the symptoms. In the early stages of PD, medications are usually enough to control symptoms. As the disease progresses, some patients may need to increase the dosage of their medications. Over time, the increase of medications and the progression of the disease can reduce control over one’s symptoms and can cause unfavorable side effects. When a patient can no longer control the symptoms of PD with medications, surgery may be an option. The surgery is called “deep brain stimulation,” and for those who are under the care of a Parkinson’s specialist (Movement Disorders Neurologist), this intervention may be recommended.
Medication and surgery are not the only approaches to managing PD. There are other actions that you can take to stay well. A healthy diet, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and establishing a regular exercise program are all ways to live well with PD. PD will require you to take an active role in your health care. If you live near a movement disorder practice, familiarize yourself with their resources for comprehensive care. Try to get involved in exercise classes designed for PD, patient and caregiver support groups, and social activities that involve you and your friends and family. Take good care of yourself and you can optimize your life living with PD.