Characteristic of resting tremors, muscular rigidity, stiffness, and slow, inhibited movements, Parkinson’s Disease holds quite a name in medical history.
This degenerative and progressive movement disorder is known to affect over 1 million people in the U.S currently. But, the number of affected patients with Parkinson’s Disease are estimated to increase to 1.2 million by the end of this decade.
Parkinson’s Disease usually affects the elderly in their 60s, but the risk of developing the neurodegenerative disease increases after the age of 45. Despite its prevalence, roughly 4% of middle-aged people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease every year.
Known to worsen over time, coping with the incurable symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease can be harrowing and debilitating to preserve the quality of life. In accordance with the European Parkinson’s Disease Association, doctors all around the world come together on April 11th to raise awareness for Parkinson’s Disease. This year is no exception; Parkinson’s Disease deserves recognition and therefore, awareness measures that could help educate the public about the disease.
Parkinson’s Disease: Symptoms and Signs
Parkinson’s Disease comprises an umbrella of motor and non-motor symptoms, all of which are due to a decrease in the levels of a neurotransmitter in the brain. This neurotransmitter, known notoriously as dopamine, is responsible for eliciting feelings, emotions, and movement as well. The cells that produce dopamine either die prematurely or are destroyed, giving birth to Parkinson’s Disease.
The motor symptoms in Parkinson’s are usually explained by the loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the ‘striata’ of the brain. The striata is a part of the ‘basal ganglia’, which is the center for coordination, movement, and cognition. As neurotransmitters are transmitted from neuron to neuron to carry out function, the cells where dopamine is required to carry out functions are also affected.
If non-dopaminergic neurons are affected, this may give rise to non-motor symptoms such as sleep disorders and impaired cognition.
Parkinson’s Disease comprises the following symptoms, but lesser-known symptoms such as impaired vision, attention deficit, autonomic dysfunction (responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response), sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression also make up a major chunk of the neurological disorder.
Tremors were plausibly the first symptoms that were identified by James ‘Parkinson’ in 1817. Resting tremors are the hallmark of Parkinson’s Disease where a patient’s hand trembles when it is at rest. The tremors are often described as ‘pill-rolling’ in nature in which a patient rubs their thumb with their fingers in an up-and-down motion.
People with Parkinson’s occasionally report signs of bradykinesia where their movements are slow and inhibited as compared to those without the disorder. From rising up from a chair to taking small steps to perform a simple task, Parkinson’s Disease can diminish the quality of life gravely.
Muscular rigidity and involuntary spasms can give rise to the inflexibility of muscles, making it relatively difficult to carry out simple day to day functions. The muscular rigidity in Parkinson’s is typically known as ‘cogwheel’ rigidity which impairs the muscle’s capability to relax. Usually seen in parts of the upper limb such as the elbows or wrists, this type of rigidity gives a ‘lead-pipe’ appearance which is often accompanied by involuntary jerk-like movements.
Cognitive and Autonomic Changes
Patients with Parkinson’s Disease often report non-motor symptoms which might mimic other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It is plausible that neurodegenerative diseases might hold some similarities in their etiologies, but are misdiagnosed and interpreted otherwise.
Somatic symptoms include pain and fatigue mainly due to muscular rigidity and repetitive involuntary movements. Loss of bladder and bowel control as well as the inability to make sound decisions with comprehensive planning and organization are also commonly seen in patients with Parkinson’s.
Other symptoms include dementia, thus the confusion with an Alzheimer’s, as well as irregular sleep cycles leading to fatigue and restlessness. Depression is another setback, along with erectile dysfunction in males.
Coping with Parkinson’s Disease
Nerve cells cannot grow or regenerate once destroyed or dead. If the nerve cells producing dopamine die as in the case of Parkinson’s, it is only a matter of time before the disease progresses. But, is this the end?
Parkinson’s disease is not only difficult for the patient, but also for their family and caregivers. The actual cause of Parkinson’s Disease is not known, as with any other neurodegenerative disease. Scientists of the Movement Disorders Program have still yet to discover how the disease begins, and why the dopamine-producing nerve cells die in the first place.
Giving Your Loved Ones the Care They Need the Most:
Parkinson’s Disease is incurable, but this does not make it unmanageable.
Medications such as Levodopa and Carbidopa work by inducing dopamine in the brain, thus alleviating the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. Other drugs such as dopamine agonists are, however, considered the first-line agents for preventing the progression of the motor symptoms, such as bradykinesia and jerkiness, of the disease. This is mainly because Levodopa induces side effects in older ages which might aggravate the symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Try making a diary drug chart to monitor your loved one’s drug dosage and timings.
Helping your loved ones with Parkinson’s Disease can seem exhausting and daunting especially if you work full-time. Thanks to helping offered by several care providers such as physiotherapists, dieticians, and nurses, you can help your loved one cope with the disorder. Most importantly, it is important to take your physical and mental health into consideration.
Ensure a healthy diet sufficient with nutrients and vitamins. Encourage brisk walks. If your loved one cannot manage on their own, try to cooperate as nature and fresh air can be helpful in promoting mental health.
The Final Verdict
Coping with a loved one with Parkinson’s Disease can be tough and time-consuming. Caring for Parkinson’s Disease varies from patient to patient. While some may rely on you to provide physical support, others might need an emotional drive to coexist with the disease.
On this World Parkinson’s Day, make a pact to give back to the elderly that deserve the most of your care. Join hands with Manhattan Medical Arts and come visit our neurologist for holistic management plans.