More than 1 million people in the U.S. have Parkinson's disease, says the National Parkinson Foundation, and as many as 60,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. Parkinson's disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects one in 100 people over age 60. While the average age at onset is 60, some people are diagnosed at 40 or younger.
Parkinson's involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain, called neurons, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As the disease progresses, the brain produces less and less dopamine, and the person loses the ability to control movement.
Symptoms vary from person to person, according to a variety of factors, including age of onset and disease progression, but primary motor signs include the following:
Many medications and treatments are available to help treat the symptoms of Parkinson's, but there are none yet that reverse the effects of the disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors may also suggest lifestyle changes, especially ongoing aerobic exercise. Physical therapy that focuses on balance and stretching may also be effective. Speech-language pathologists may help improve speech difficulties. In later cases, surgical procedures such as deep brain stimulation may be recommended.
After a diagnosis of Parkinson's each person's journey is different, but the Parkinson's Disease Foundation recommends these common strategies for maintaining a high quality of daily living with Parkinson's:
Find routines and treatments that work best for you and follow them consistently.
Keep doing activities you love to do, and you may alleviate your symptoms and boost your mental well-being. Painting, tai chi, yoga, exerciseâ€”keeping up with these favorite activities may help you take charge of your life with Parkinson's.
Become better informed about Parkinson's, and meet other people who are living with the disease.
Be both a benefactor and a participant in the Parkinson's community and the community at large.
Make a priority of living well at home and at work as the disease changes by using assistive technologies and seeking the expertise of professionals such as occupational therapists, speech therapists and nutritionists wen needed.