Have Questions About Parkinson's?

Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder in which parts of the brain become damaged over time. The disease is a progressive one, with symptoms worsening as the disease advances. There are three main symptoms that present themselves with Parkinson's. These include involuntary shaking (tremors) of body parts (notably the head), stiff muscles, and slow movement. However, the symptoms can also include a loss of smell, disturbed sleep or insomnia, balance and coordination problems, and memory issues. Parkinson's disease can also affect a person psychologically, with many patients experiencing anxiety and depression. The disease is typically diagnosed in middle aged and elderly adults and the diagnosis is certainly life-changing. Patients with this disease will require long-term treatment in order to control and cope with symptoms, plus they will need to learn new ways to adapt in order to complete everyday tasks. Eating healthy and exercising will keep patients in top physical condition while providing relief from stress and anxiety caused by the illness. Keeping busy with hobbies and activities will also keep the person more mentally fit and improve their mood. Having supportive friends and family is also important, both for the mentality of the patient as well as for having assistance in coping with the physical symptoms. Identifying needs and utilizing one's resources will ensure that a patient can continue to live a high quality of life while coping with the disease. The following are some FAQs for those coping with a Parkinson's diagnosis.

1. What causes Parkinson's disease?

A: Parkinson's disease occurs when nerve cells in the substantia nigra, a part of the brain, die off. These nerve cells are responsible for producing a neurotransmitter, which acts as a messenger between the brain and the nervous system, controlling and coordinating movement. When these cells become damaged or die, the amount available in the brain reduces, which results in limited motor control and slowness. However, most systems in the body are also affected to some degree, making the disease a very serious one. The loss of these cells is not instantaneous; rather it is a slow and gradual process, with symptoms only presenting when around 80 percent of nerve cells have been lost. It is still unclear why some people get Parkinson's while other do not, and researches cannot give a concrete answer for what triggers the dying off of these nerve cells in the first place.

2. What will a doctor do if Parkinson's disease is expected?

​If patients begin to show symptoms, a doctor will order tests to be conducted in order to exclude any other possible explanation for the symptoms. There is no definitive, specialized test used to detect Parkinson's disease. Rather, a diagnosis relies mostly on a detailed history of a patient's symptoms, in addition to a clinical examination. It's not easy to diagnose Parkinson's disease, and a doctor will typically refer suspected patients to a neurologist or a movement disorder specialist for further assessment.

3. Is there a cure for Parkinson's?

​Unfortunately, there is not yet a cure for the disease. However, a variety of medications are used to assist in alleviating symptoms, or at least making them more manageable. Other treatments are also used to reduce symptoms and assist people in living as fully and productively as possible. Though the disease itself is not fatal, other complications that can come about because of Parkinson's can be. Lifestyle modifications and being diligent with one's treatment currently offer the best prognosis for patients with Parkinson's.

4. What are the treatments for Parkinson's Disease?

The three main treatment options currently used for Parkinson's disease include medications, supportive therapies, and surgery, though the latter is not used very frequently. Medications are typically prescribed to assist with movement control. Not all medications are suitable for each individual, and each comes with short and long-term side effects. Supportive therapies are used in conjunction with medication and can include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy. Physiotherapy will help to relieve muscle stiffness and joint pain, while occupational therapy can assist with making everyday tasks more manageable. Many people with Parkinson's have difficulty speaking and swallowing, and a speech and language therapist can improve these problems by having the patient complete oral exercises. Surgery involves implanting a pulse generator in the brain in a procedure called deep brain stimulation.

5. What can a patient do to improve his/her prognosis and quality of life?

​Staying active is extremely important. Participating in activities, especially those involving exercise, stimulates the mind and body, allowing people to more effectively manage their symptoms. Furthermore, staying active may slow the progression of the condition, allowing people to maintain a certain cognitive level for a longer period of time. Staying hydrated and eating a healthy diet is also highly recommended, as it can reduce the dizziness and confusion associated with low blood pressure. Setting up one's household to allow them to function more effectively is also important. These skills can be learned in occupational therapy and should be applied to everyday life.

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