As people grow old, they might experience the various effects of aging. Some people may suffer from medical conditions that can take a toll on their everyday life. One of the most debilitating degenerative diseases is Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic and progressive movement disorder, and it mostly affects older people. The symptoms of this disease stem from the gradual degeneration of the nerve cells in the part of the brain responsible for body movement.
This condition affects approximately 1 percent of individuals who are 60 years old and above. It may cause progressive disability, which can be slowed by treatment. The condition, however, progresses slowly until the movements are already affected.
More than 10 million people across the globe are living with Parkinson’s disease. As a person grows older, the incidence of the disease increases too. Moreover, men are at a higher risk of developing the disease than women. In the United States, more than one million are living with Parkinson’s disease.
Stages of Parkinson’s Disease
Stage 1 – This is the initial stage and there are only mild symptoms like tremors occur on one side of the body and there are changes in the body’s posture, facial expressions and walking.
Stage 2 – In this stage, the tremors and other symptoms occur on both sides of the body. The patient might still live alone but doing everyday tasks may become difficult.
Stage 3 – This stage is called mid-stage because there are worse problems like loss of balance and slowness of movements. Some activities like bathing or dressing become a burden.
Stage 4 – In this stage, the symptoms are severe and very limiting. The patient needs a walker to move around and needs help in the house.
Stage 5 – This is the most progressive and incapacitating stage of Parkinson’s disease. Tasks are almost impossible to do and the symptoms are full-blown.
There are four main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:
- Tremor – Tremor or shaking of the hands, arms and legs
- Bradykinesia – Slow movement
- Muscle Rigidity – Stiff muscles
- Postural Instability – Balance problems
The cause of Parkinson’s disease is still unclear. However, some studies have shown that both genetics and environmental factors may contribute to the development of this condition. Still, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but the treatment options help slow the progression of the illness.
In Parkinson’s disease, some nerve cells in the brain that are responsible for movement slowly break down or die. Most of the Parkinson’s disease symptoms are linked to the loss of neurons that produce the neurotransmitter, dopamine. When there are lower levels of dopamine in the brain, there is abnormal brain activity – leading to various signs of Parkinson’s disease.
Experts suggest that the loss of cells in other areas of the brain and body are linked to Parkinson’s. For instance, scientists have exposed that the hallmark sign of Parkinson’s disease — clumps of a protein called alpha-synuclein are discovered only in the brain.
Some scientists have linked genetic mutations to the development of Parkinson’s disease. However, these are uncommon except for rate cases.
Some toxins in the environment like manganese, carbon monoxide, carbon disulfide and other pesticides, could affect the brain in ways that could trigger the development of Parkinson’s disease.
Also, some scientists suggest that some changes in the brain could signal the development of Parkinson’s disease.
- Lewy Bodies – Scientists have found clumps of specific substances inside the cells. These are microscopic markers of Parkinson’s disease.
- Alpha-synuclein – When alpha-synuclein is found in Lewy bodies, this could also signal Parkinson’s disease.
Risk factors are some things that increase the likelihood of developing the disease. Here are the risk factors for Parkinson’s disease:
A person who has a family member who has Parkinson’s disease is at a higher risk of having the disease in later life compared to others.
Although there are rare cases of people who have Parkinson’s disease at an earlier age, most cases happen during the senior years.
Studies have shown that males have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than females. It has been shown that estrogen has neuroprotective properties that help protect the brain from trauma.
Exposure to Toxic Chemicals
Exposure to various environmental toxins like pesticide increases your risk of Parkinson’s disease. Some of these chemicals inhibit dopamine production and increase the damage caused by free radicals.
Low Levels of B Vitamin Folate
Some studies have shown that low levels of this vitamin increase the risk of a person suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Many studies have shown the negative impact of head trauma on the brain’s functioning.
Aside from the physical symptoms of the disease, other parts of the body are affected with Parkinson’s disease. If the disease progresses, there are the possible complications of the illness.
Depression and anxiety
Problems with thinking
People with Parkinson’s disease may have cognitive problems like dementia and thinking difficulties.
Some patients experience a drop in libido, mostly among men.
In some patients, they may find it hard to control their bladder while others may find it hard to pee. These could be side effects of the drugs used for PD.
Many patients with PD have difficulties going to sleep and staying asleep.
Parkinson’s disease develops slowly and gradually, making some people seek medical help when the symptoms are already noticeable, and the disease has progressed already.
While there are no tests to say that a person has Parkinson’s disease. Your doctor may ask about your symptoms and to confirm, might request for imaging.
Imaging tests like CT Scan, MRI and PET scans may help rule out other diseases.
Moreover, the physician may request for a doctor’s evaluation through physical examination and medical history. To diagnose PD, the doctor would take a complete neurological history. There are no standard diagnostic tests for PD but the physician will take a careful neurological history.
- Arms are assessed for tremor
- Stiffness in the extremities are checked
- Movements are observed
- How quickly are you able to regain balance?
At present, there is still no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but the treatment options target the symptoms and make life easier. Treatments include surgical therapy and drugs. Other treatments include lifestyle modifications like exercising more a getting adequate sleep.
Medicines and drugs can help you manage difficulties in movement, tremor and walking. These medicines help increase the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. Since people with PD have lower levels of dopamine, medicines are prescribed. Remember that only licensed drugs must be dispensed.
Carbidopa-levodopa – Levodopa is the most commonly used Parkinsons’ disease medication. This medicine is a natural chemical that converts into dopamine when inside the brain. Some of the side effects of the drugs are just nausea, lightheadedness and drop in the blood pressure.
Dopamine agonists – These medications do not change into dopamine. However, they mimic the effects of dopamine on the brain. Some of the drugs in this group include pramipexole, ropinirole, retigabine, and apomorphine.
MAO-B inhibitors – This medication prevents the breakdown of dopamine. It works by controlling and hindering the brain enzyme monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B).
Other medications for Parkinson’s disease include:
- Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors
Surgery such as deep brain stimulation can be used as a treatment option for patients with PD.
While there is no way to prevent Parkinson’s disease, there are many ways to prevent and slow its progression, which could take a toll on someone’s life. Here are some ways to prevent PD and other brain disorders:
- Eat fresh and raw vegetables
- Avoid exposure to pesticides
- Do not take excess iron tablets
- Avoid excess manganese
- Some studies have shown consuming caffeine may have a role in reducing the risk of PD.
- Avoid smoking
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Choose a new hobby
- Have an outlet
- Connect with the community
Parkinson’s disease is not fatal and dangerous. However, the complications associated with it could be life-threatening. The life expectancy of people with Parkinson’s is often about the same with the population. However, this is just for those who receive proper treatment and intervention.
The disease affects life in general, and those with an early onset of PD have shorter lifespans than those who had the disease later in life.
Most individuals respond to medicines. The amount of receptiveness and the period of how long the effectiveness of the drug lasts differs from one person to another. The side effects of medications are another limiting in their use.
Early detection is important. When the signs and symptoms are promptly reported to a doctor, the disease will not progress to the late stages. Untreated Parkinson’s disease may hasten the deterioration of the brain functions at an early age.
Just like other neurodegenerative diseases, Parkinson’s disease can slow progress, and sometimes it would take years before it becomes a full-blown disease. Hence, it’s important for you to determine the early signs of PD for early interventions to be applied.