By Karen Hales, Neurology Solutions Contributing Writer

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder affecting more than one million Americans and an estimated 7 to 10 million people worldwide. In helping raise awareness of this disorder and the need for research into finding a cure, individuals should start by learning the facts about Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease (or PD) is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system that gradually affects patients’ movements through tremors, stiffness or slowing of movement. PD impacts nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra impairing the cells’ ability to produce and deliver the neurotransmitter dopamine to other cells. In fact, by the time early Parkinson’s disease is diagnosed, it is estimated the person has lost 70 percent of the cells that produce dopamine. This results in an aggravation of motor and non motor disorders.

PD is caused by the breakdown of certain proteins, called alpha-synuclein proteins, in nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine, a chemical that produces pleasurable feelings in response to rewarding activities.

Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with PD each year, but this number does not reflect the thousands of cases that go undetected.

The average onset of PD is age 60, but it is estimated that 5-10% of people experience symptoms before the age of 40. PD affects one person in 20 over the age of 80, and the disease is more prevalent in men. There is no simple diagnostic test in identifying PD; however, and approximately 25 percent of PD diagnoses are incorrect.

Parkinson’s is measured on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) measuring aspects such as reflexes, tremor, rigidity, balance, coordination, posture, gait and eye movement. Because PD is a multi-system disorder, non-motor symptoms can include apathy, fatigue, depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, constipation, low blood pressure, difficulty swallowing, pain and voice projection.

The medical community is gaining greater understanding through research about Parkinson’s disease with hopes of diagnosing it early and developing treatments to lessen its negative effects and possibly find a cure.

The progression of PD

Parkinson’s disease affects people differently. Not everyone will experience all the symptoms of PD and the progression of the disease can also vary greatly from person to person.

Tremor is usually the first symptom, typically in just one arm or leg or one side of the body. Joint pain, fatigue and weakness also may occur. As the disease progresses, coordination and stiffness or rigidity may begin, and problems with posture begin to appear.

After several years, the person with PD may no longer be able to care for themselves or perform daily tasks independently, and he or she may be confined to a wheelchair or bed.

How to cope with your diagnosis

Knowing your risks for PD and getting an early diagnosis can help reduce the progression of the disease.

  • First, it is important to find a doctor you trust and a caring environment where you can receive treatment. It is recommended that patients who think they may have PD consult a neurologist who is specially trained in movement disorders.

Contact Neurology Solutions Movement Disorders Center at 512-865-6310 today to schedule an appointment for a PD consultation with Board-Certified neurologist Dr. Robert Izor.

  • Exercise is a must, both for the emotional benefits of physical activity and the management of symptoms such as joint stiffness and decreased balance.
  • Manage your stress. There is ample evidence that PD symptoms worsen when a patient is coping with stress. In fact, research suggests that oxidative stress can be a factor in the onset of PD.  As many as half of people with PD experience depression, and almost as many experience anxiety.
  • Find support, stay active and rely on friends. There are many support groups and exercise programs for people with the condition, as well as advocacy groups who are willing to listen to your concerns and identify resources to help you lead a productive life for years to come. The Michael J. Fox Foundation is just one of many organizations who are galvanizing the medical community in finding better treatments and engaging the PD patient community in taking advantage of the best options available in treating the disease. For other resources serving patients with PD and other movement disorders, please visit our Resources page.

Treatment and Management

Currently, there isn’t a cure for PD, but a variety of medications and other treatments—including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy—can often provide significant relief from symptoms.

Exercise is crucial for maintaining function for patients with PD. Neurology Solutions Movement Disorders Center provides a variety of physical therapies to assist patients with PD, including:

  • cognitive and speech therapy
  • dynamic balance assessment and fall prevention education
  • specialized physical/occupational therapy
  • LSVT Big and Loud™
  • active neuromuscular reeducation

Research & New Treatment Options for Parkinson’s

Some recent developments in research include discovery of a correlation between a rare sleep disorder and PD. A recent study found that about half of people with rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder will develop PD or a related disorder within 10 years of their sleep disorder diagnosis.

Recent research on the study of neurological conditions and mindfulness are making waves in the study of neuroscience. Read here about interesting studies on neuroplasticity and the power of the mind to increase the capacity of the brain and connections within the brain, and the benefits of activities such as Tai Chi and Yoga.

Other potential breakthroughs are being studied in the areas of stem cell research, genetics and gene therapy, and wearable technology that provides doctors and researchers sophisticated data on patients’ experience with PD.

Take the time to consult a neurology specialist if you think yourself, a family member or friend may be affected by PD. If you are feeling unsure about your diagnosis or prior consultation, get a second opinion. Knowing if you are affected by PD is the first step in dealing with the disease.

If you know someone who is struggling with PD, make an effort this month to help them deal with their disease by helping them stay active by exercising with them, recommending an exercise program or helping them get out and experience everyday life to ease stress.

Stay Connected

Neurology Solutions is accepting new patients seeking a specialist in managing Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, essential tremor and age-related movement disorders. If you’re in the Austin area and are in need of a consultation or want to try other solutions for dealing with PD such as speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy and more, call Neurology Solutions Movement Disorders Center today at 512-865-6310, or you may contact us here.

Join Neurology Solutions Movement Disorders Center’s e-mail list to stay up to date on the latest in treatments, how to manage stress and maintain quality of life while battling illness, and tips for staying healthy.