At first it may look like a small tremor of the hand, or speech that becomes slurred. This could be an early symptom of Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive neurological disorder which affects more than 500,000 people nationwide, with the average onset at age 60. It is mainly thought to be inherited. Parkinson’s has no cure but is not fatal. However, overall health can decline as symptoms worsen, such as increased risk of falling and difficulty swallowing.
The disease results from the breakdown of neurons in the brain, in an area that regulates movement. Dopamine, a chemical that signals the brain to automatically move the limbs and other body parts, degenerates. While some patients may not need treatment for several years after diagnosis, eventually drugs like levodopa (L-dopa) are prescribed, which replace the dopamine in the brain. However, dopamine can’t be administered directly to the brain so the drugs do the next best thing and pass into the brain. Other drugs include MAO-B inhibitors, which help prevent an enzyme from breaking down the dopamine in the brain. Surgical procedures like Deep Brain Stimulations (DBS) are known to help. Electrodes are implanted in a specific part of the brain and connected to a generator in the patient’s chest so as to send electrical impulses to the brain.
There are typically five stages of Parkinson’s Disease:
Stage one: Symptoms on one side of the body
Stage two: Symptoms on both sides of the body
Stage three: Balance is impaired, but there is physical independence.
Stage four: Still able to stand or walk without assistance
Stage five: Bedridden or wheelchair bound; assistance is required for movement
Initial Parkinson’s Disease symptoms include tremors of hands or other limbs. As the disease progresses, patients experience difficulty/slowness of moving, a stooped posture, reduced facial expressions, trouble swallowing, trouble standing and speech impairment.
If they get quality treatment, most people with Parkinson’s can live long and productive lives. They will have to make some lifestyle changes, especially to conserve energy. Some recommendations include planning plenty of rest/rest periods, not working long days, not climbing too many steps, simplifying tasks such as not scheduling too many things in one day or lifting heavy objects.
There are many resources for people with Parkinson’s disease. The Parkinson’s Support Group of Tarrant County has a monthly support group meeting and has exercise class three times per week. Exercise is particularly important for those with Parkinson’s disease to help maintain balance and possibly slow the disease’s progression.
Current information on about the disease can be found online through the National Parkinson Foundation and the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Actor Michael J. Fox, who is perhaps the most famous advocate for sufferers of the disease, has a research foundation and website which contains information on the latest breakthroughs and clinical trials.
Seniors with Parkinson’s disease are likely to need in home care assistance as their disease worsens. The caregivers at Home Care Assistance of Fort Worth will help patients with getting around, doing chores, running errands and other essentials.