Did you know that April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month? Nearly one million Americans live with this disease, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF). Among them are recognizable names like singer Linda Ronstadt, actor Bob Hoskins, and astronaut Rich Clifford. Of course, Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox also have well-known diagnoses, and they have both started foundations centered around Parkinson’s awareness. While there is currently no cure for this progressive movement disorder, there are many ways to address and treat its symptoms. Read on to learn more about this disease that affects so many American families. What is Parkinson’s Disease?
What exactly is Parkinson’s Disease?
Formerly known as the “shaking palsy,” Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which neurons in the brain begin to die off, and result in decreased levels of dopamine. This affects the part of the brain that is responsible for movement, coordination, and balance. It is named after Dr. James Parkinson, who was the first to complete an actual study of the disease in the early 19th century. (Random trivia about Dr. Parkinson: He was a founding member of the London-based Geological Society, and was also implicated during his lifetime of conspiring to assassinate King George III.)
It is not yet decided what initially causes Parkinson’s to develop, but here is what the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation has to say about the physiological causes of it:
“Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain, called neurons. Parkinson's primarily affects neurons in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As PD progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally. Scientists are also exploring the idea that loss of cells in other areas of the brain and body contribute to Parkinson’s. For example, researchers have discovered that the hallmark sign of Parkinson’s disease - clumps of a protein alpha-synuclein, which are also called Lewy Bodies - are found not only in the mid-brain but also in the brain stem and the olfactory bulb.”
Parkinson’s tends to affect men more than women, and it is typically a disease that strikes the elderly. Some instances, however, have been diagnosed before the age of 50, but this is rare. As mentioned above, the disease is progressive, meaning that it will gradually get worse, and unfortunately there is no cure yet (similar to Alzheimer’s Disease). The good news is that there are many treatments available to people living with it (more on this later).
What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease has both motor and nonmotor symptoms. When we say “motor,” we are referring to the part of the central nervous system that deals with controlling bodily movement. There are fine motor skills (like writing, threading a needle, and other tasks that require precision) and gross motor skills (think coordinated movements like jumping jacks or carrying a heavy bucket). Parkinson’s can affect both of these, and some of the more readily apparent symptoms are tremors in the hands, arms, jaw, face, or legs and impaired balance and coordination. It is easier to make a diagnosis when these motor symptoms are present.
Nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may include:
- General Pain
- Weight Loss
- Disturbed Sleep
- Changes in Sense of Smell
As you can see, these symptoms could represent any number of other illnesses or conditions, which can make a proper diagnosis difficult. The first person to make a diagnosis is generally a family practice physician, and many people opt to see a specialist to confirm.
Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease
Depending on how severe the symptoms are, and how long someone has had the disease, a variety of treatments are available. Here is a quick look at different options to treat Parkinson’s:
Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs. There are a lot of prescription drugs available, each with slightly different functions. One of the most popular combinations - carbidopa and levodopa - is also one of the most potent, and it acts as a dopamine replacement for the brain (technically, the levodopa is the replacement, and the carbidopa prevents it from being metabolized too quickly and eases the associated nausea). Anticholinergics are another class of drug, and these decrease neurotransmitter activity (incidentally, they are contraindicated for patients over the age of 70). Other prescription drugs inhibit the metabolization of levodopa in various ways. As for over-the-counter drugs, some patients opt to try nutritional supplements to ease symptoms. Some of these include Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and creatine.
Deep Brain Stimulation. Approximately 30,000 people worldwide have undergone this surgery. Here is what the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation has to say about it: “During deep brain stimulation surgery, electrodes are inserted into the targeted brain region using MRI and neurophysiological mapping to ensure that they are implanted in the right place. A device called an impulse generator or IPG (similar to a pacemaker) is implanted under the collarbone to provide an electrical impulse to a part of the brain involved in motor function. Those who undergo the surgery are given a controller, which allows them to check the battery and to turn the device on or off. An IPG battery lasts for about three to five years and is relatively easy to replace under local anesthesia.”
How Can In Home Care Help People With Parkinson’s?
As seen above, Parkinson’s disease can have a big effect on a person (and family’s) quality of life. Some of these effects may include difficulty with daily tasks, requiring help with medication reminders or administration, and mitigating the effects of dementia and other symptoms of Parkinson’s. Qualified caretakers can assist clients with all of these tasks. Having help in the comfort of your own home is an added bonus; home is a familiar, welcoming place for most people who receive some sort of senior care.
At Pennsylvania Agency of Nurses, we pride ourselves on our competent, compassionate approach, and this extends to those living with Parkinson’s disease. As a nurse-owned, nurse-operated in home care agency serving the greater Philadelphia area, we have more than thirty years experience helping individuals and families cope with a variety of situations. Please contact us today to see how we can help your loved ones!