What You Should Know About Parkinson’s Disease

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Image source: seniorhousinghelper.org

BY: ALLISON BROWN

The last few articles have been about auto-immune diseases.  I will endeavour to write about neurodegenerative diseases. Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease. Movement is normally controlled by dopamine, a chemical that carries signals between the nerves in the brain. When cells that normally produce dopamine die, the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear according to the Parkinson Canada website.

A diagnosis of Parkinson’s can take time. A family doctor might notice it first. A referral to a neurologist (a specialist who deals with Parkinson’s) will be provided. There are no x-rays or tests to confirm Parkinson’s. A thorough check of one’s medical history will be conducted by the neurologist, physical examination and other tests will be performed to rule out other conditions which may resemble Parkinson’s.  It is important to be patient and to work in collaboration with your healthcare team to obtain a diagnosis. 

The most common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are tremors, slowness and stiffness, impaired balance, and rigidity of the muscles. Other symptoms are fatigue, soft speech, problems with handwriting, stooped posture, constipation, and sleep disturbances. Currently, there is no cure. One can live with Parkinson’s for years. The symptoms are treated with medication. Some people with Parkinson’s may benefit from surgery. The following therapies can also help manage the symptoms, physical therapy helps mobility, flexibility, and balance, occupational therapy helps with daily activities, speech therapy helps with voice control, and exercise helps muscles and joints and improves overall health and well-being.

Like the auto-immune diseases, Parkinson’s disease is uniquely experienced by each person who is diagnosed. The symptoms and progression of the disease will vary from person to person. Living with Parkinson’s requires an individualized approach which includes all aspects of a person’s life (a holistic approach).  It is important for you to be an active participant in managing the disease.

With disease progression, non-motor symptoms may also appear, such as depression, difficulty swallowing, sexual problems or cognitive changes. It is important to find a doctor who is knowledgeable about Parkinson’s, ideally a neurologist. By working with a healthcare team, a treatment plan can be created that will meet the person’s individual needs.

While medications can alleviate the symptoms, they do not slow the progression of Parkinson’s. As the symptoms change, medications will need to be adjusted. It takes longer or more effort to perform daily activities such as getting dressed. Tremor on one side of the body may now appear on both sides. Significant changes in walking, from slowness to a shuffle may be experienced. Symptoms may be worse one day and not the next.  More frequent intake of medications may be required.  Higher doses or a combination of medications may be necessary to control symptoms.

It is important to be aware of changes and to inform family and healthcare practitioners when symptoms are experienced.   Ask care partner(s) or family if they have noticed changes, such as difficulty hearing when one speaks. Involve healthcare professionals, such as speech pathologists or home care workers to help manage the daily challenges of Parkinson’s.

Depending upon your age of onset, how you manage the symptoms, and your general health, you can live an active life with Parkinson’s. In most cases, one’s life is not shortened. However, as one ages and as the disease progresses, there will be increased risks. For example, impaired balance can lead to falls; swallowing problems, if not managed, can lead to pneumonia. Parkinson’s is known as a chronic (long-term) condition that will require ongoing monitoring and management to maintain one’s quality of life.

Parkinson’s symptoms and those of another condition can be challenging. For example, memory or concentration changes can be a side effect of medications, a non-motor symptom of Parkinson’s or a separate condition. Ensure collaboration with healthcare professionals who are knowledgeable about Parkinson’s, especially with the need to follow your medication routine. It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle (e.g., good nutrition, exercise, staying active and socially engaged).

I hope you are more enlightened about Parkinson’s disease and I look forward to sharing another neurological disease with you next time.  This article is dedicated to Florence and Sylbert Greaves, thank you for your wonderful feedback. (http://www.parkinson.ca/site/c.kgLNIWODKpF/b.5000693/k.812F/Progression_of_Parkinsons.htm)

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