Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive neurological disease the results in symptoms like slowed movements, muscle stiffness, and tremor. It affects about seven to 10 million people worldwide, including over a million Americans. Of the 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States, only four percent are diagnosed before the age of 50. Parkinson’s disease affects men more often than women.
Most of the symptoms of Parkinson’s are seen as movement difficulties. The three most common occurrences are tremor, slowness of movement, and stiffness or rigidity. There may be a loss of natural movements and experience balance issues. Over time, you may develop an unsteady or shuffling walk. Speech and swallowing problems can also occur.
The disease seems to progress in stages.
In its early stage, Parkinson’s may be barely noticeable. At first you may also notice a change in your ability to smell, experience constipation and develop a sleep disorder. Also, an early sign is usually hand tremors on one side of your body. You may realize that your posture is getting worse, have problems keeping your balance, and your movements may become slower.
Your symptoms may start to affect both sides of your body, and spread to more areas. Balance issues and lack of facial control are more clearly seen in this stage, and you may be finding it harder to complete tasks.
In later stages, Parkinson’s becomes more pronounced in the areas already affected, and spreads to other areas. Your movements will become slower, and your muscles will become rigid and uncooperative. Also, in late stage, some may experience cognitive problems.
The specific source of Parkinson’s disease is known: there is a degeneration of nerve cells in the section of the brain that controls movement. Certain cells wither or die, and can’t produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate movement. According to the National Parkinson’s Foundation, the symptoms of the disease appear when about 80 percent of these cells are damaged.
Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are effective treatments that can allow patients to continue living their daily lives comfortably for many years. The medical professionals at St. Luke’s Movement Disorder Center work together with you to create a treatment plan that optimizes your health and well-being.
- Physical therapy and exercise programs, like Tai Chi, can help you with balance issues. Exercise has been proven to be very helpful in building strength, promoting flexibility and even delaying disability.
- Occupational therapy can provide you with the tools and equipment you need to accomplish your daily activities.
- Speech therapy can help to assess and treat slurred speech and swallowing issues.
- Sleep medicine specialists are available to help assess and optimize your sleeping habits.
- St. Luke’s offers a Parkinson’s support group called Support to Empower Parkinson’s Strategies (PD STEPS). It is a free, monthly, community education program for those living with Parkinson’s disease. Register by calling 1-866-STLUKES (785-8537) (option 4).
Parkinson’s disease is generally diagnosed through physical exam and a detailed medical history. Blood and brain imaging tests may be ordered by your medical provider to see if there are any structural changes in your brain, and to assess for other causes of your symptoms.
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there are many effective medications and therapies to treat the primary symptoms of Parkinson’s and help you live your life comfortably for many years.
St. Luke’s has neurorehabilitation specialists certified in LSVT Big and Loud therapy, which is a program to specifically treats certain symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
In some cases, when patients don’t find relief with other treatments, surgery may be indicated. St. Luke’s was first in the region to offer deep brain stimulation (DBS) as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease and continues to perform the most DBS procedures in the region.