Parkinson’s Disease tends to affect the elderly more so than other ages. It’s often diagnosed at age 60 or later.It’s important that people recognize how Parkinson’s affects individuals every day.
When a famous individual announces a Parkinson’s diagnosis, like singer-songwriter Neil Diamond did in 2018, there’s an immediate uptick in interest in the disease. That can be turned into a positive, but it’s important that people recognize how Parkinson’s affects individuals every day, regardless of their social status.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease, also called PD, is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing (dopaminergic) neurons in a specific area of the brain known as the substantia nigra, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. Those neurons weaken and die over time. In the simplest of terms, PD is a nervous system disorder that eventually affects movement and sometimes behavior. The Mayo Clinic says symptoms tend to start off minor and are often barely noticeable. PD builds progressively, and eventually may affect more than just movement — causing mental and behavioral changes as well.
Who does PD affect?
The National Institute on Aging says that anyone can develop PD, but the disease affects about 50 percent more men than women. Most people develop symptoms around age 60, making age a risk factor for PD. However, roughly 5 to 10 percent of individuals with PD have “early-onset,” which begins before the age of 50.
Harvard Medical School also says that there may be environmental causes behind PD. Studies have shown a correlation between exposure to chemicals used in pesticides and herbicides, as well as metals and organic pollutants, and development of Parkinson’s. Repeated blows to the head can increase the risk of developing PD as well.
Symptoms of the disease
Symptoms tend to develop gradually before progressing. Many people can live comfortably with PD for some time before it affects their daily lives. Common symptoms of PD include:
• Shaking or tremor
• Rigid muscles
• Difficulty walking
• Bradykinesia (slowness of movements)
• Lack of facial movement
• Poor posture
• Unsteady balance
As the disease progresses, these symptoms may occur:
• Slurred or soft speech
• Trouble chewing and swallowing
• Memory loss
• Emotional changes
• Decreased ability to smell
• Restless legs
• Urinary problems
• Sleep disruptions
There are no medical tests to definitively detect the disease. Doctors use a series of markers to determine if PD may be present. The National Institute on Aging says diagnosis is usually based on gait issues, reduced swinging of the arms, lack of facial expression, and tremors, among others.
There is no cure for PD, but medications and therapy can help control symptoms. Carbidopa-levodopa is a medication that passes into the brain and is converted to dopamine to help reduce the effects of low brain dopamine concentrations in PD. Other medications may be prescribed as needed.
Parkinson’s affects millions of people. Early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce symptoms and prolong comfort.
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