Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month:
Each year, April is designated as Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive disorder that results in the loss of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that transmits signals between two regions of the brain to coordinate activity. If there is deficiency of dopamine, nerve cells “fire” out of control. This leaves the individual unable to direct or control movements. Although descriptions of people with Parkinsonism date back to ancient Egypt, it wasn’t until 1817 that paralysis agitans (shaking palsy)was first described in an essay by English surgeon James Parkinson. The condition was renamed Parkinson’s disease sixty years later.
Identifying Parkinson’s Disease:
Parkinson’s disease usually affects people over the age of 50 although the illness does occur in people between the ages of 30 and 50, or in rare cases at a younger age. Early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is important so that appropriate treatment can begin. There are four primary symptoms of Parkinson ’s disease: tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination. As these symptoms become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. At present, there are no laboratory tests that can confirm the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and a physician determines a diagnosis by taking a family and health history, performing a physical and neurological exam, observing the person’s movements and muscle function, and ruling out other disorders that can cause similar symptoms.
Causes of Parkinson’s Disease:
Although the exact cause for the loss of cells is unknown, most cases of Parkinson disease probably result from a complex interaction of environmental and genetic factors:
- Most cases of Parkinson’s disease occur in people with no apparent family history of the disorder.
- Approximately 15 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease have a family history of this disorder.
- Researchers have identified specific genetic mutations that can cause Parkinson’s disease, but these are uncommon. They have also identified alterations in certain genes that do not cause Parkinson disease but appear to modify the risk of developing the condition in some families.
- Some gene mutations appear to disturb the cell machinery that degrades or breaks down unwanted proteins in dopamine-producing neurons. In patients with Parkinson’s disease, the protein alpha-synuclein fails to break down and forms into clumps called Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies accumulate in dopamine-producing neurons and lead to the impairment or death of these cells.
- Other mutations may affect the function of mitochondria, the energy-producing structures within cells. As a byproduct of energy production, mitochondria make unstable molecules called free radicals that can damage cells. Cells normally counteract the effects of free radicals before they cause damage, but mutations can disrupt this process. As a result, free radicals may accumulate and impair or kill dopamine-producing neurons.
- Exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors may increase the risk of later Parkinson’s disease, but the risk is relatively small.
Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease:
In addition to the many new advances in medication therapy, treatment for Parkinson’s Disease may include:
- Rehabilitative therapy—Physical, occupational and speech therapists can assess the person’s abilities and needs, and provide exercises to help maintain the highest possible range of motion, muscle tone, balance and flexibility, and communication ability.
- Lifestyle alterations—Exercise helps maintain muscle tone and strength. Diet is important for nutrition, for maintaining an appropriate weight, and because protein level may be a factor in the person’s condition. Rest and stress reduction are also important.
- Support groups – Huntsville enjoys a very active Parkinson’s support group that offers aid, support, education, discussion and raises research funds for treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Information about Huntsville’s support group can be found at http://parkinsons-huntsville.webs.com or calling 256-859-6523.
April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month!
Join the Parkinson’s disease community this April in raising Parkinson’s Disease awareness all over the US and around the world. Here are a few strategies to help you get started:
- Read All About It: Put PD in the Local Papers
- Paint the Town … with Tulips!
- Involve Public Officials
- Dare to Go Digital by Sharing Awareness Online
For now, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease but with early diagnosis and an effective plan of treatment, the symptoms of the disease can often be controlled or lessened. For those with Parkinson’s disease, Huntsville offers many services and supports which enable people to remain active and have the quality of life that is important to them.