Understanding Parkinson’s Disease
This slide show represents a visual interpretation and is not intended to provide, nor substitute as, medical and/or clinical advice.
What is Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common degenerative diseases of the nervous system.
Who gets Parkinson's disease?
It is most common in people over 65 years of age and can affect younger people as well.
Patients under 40 are classified as “young onset Parkinson’s” and make 10-15% of all cases.
What causes Parkinson's disease?
In Parkinson’s, specific neurons in the brain start to malfunction. They make less of a chemical called dopamine that is involved in generating movement.
Scientists do not yet know exactly what leads to the death of these dopamine-producing neurons.
What are the possible risk factors for Parkinson's disease?
In most cases, they believe Parkinson’s is due to a combination of genetic changes and environmental factors, with young onset patients perhaps having a stronger genetic contribution.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson’s symptoms can be broadly divided into two types: motor – or movement – related and non-motor symptoms.
Non-motor symptoms might show up earlier but can occur throughout the disease.
What are the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's?
Non-motor Parkinson’s symptoms can include:
- Loss of the sense of smell;
- Sleep problems;
- Constipation; and
What are other non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's?
Some non-motor Parkinson’s symptoms may be associated with Parkinson’s medications. These can include:
- Daytime sleepiness;
- Hallucinations – or seeing things that aren’t really there;
- Drops in blood pressure; and
- Psychosis – or losing touch with reality temporarily.
What are the motor symptoms of Parkinson's?
Tremor is not always present but can be the most noticeable motor symptom of Parkinson’s disease in many cases. The tremor is usually in the hands at rest, but can also be present in the legs or even the chin.
The resting tremor of the hands is often described as “pill rolling” with the thumb and other digits involved.
What are other motor symptoms of Parkinson's?
Other motor symptoms include slow movements (or bradykinesia), stiffness, reduced facial expression, changes in posture, and trouble with walking and balance.
Motor symptoms usually start on one side of the body and can spread to the other as the disease advances.
What are the stages of Parkinson's?
There are a variety of rating scales that Parkinson’s specialists sometimes use to track changes over time. Doctors sometimes divide Parkinson’s disease into five stages. Progression is typically slow but can vary from patient to patient.
Parkinson's disease – Stage 1
In stage 1, mild symptoms, usually including tremor and other motor symptoms affect one side of the body and produce little disability overall.
Parkinson's disease – Stage 2
In stage 2, symptoms make daily activities more difficult. Movement problems are on both sides of the body.
Posture and walking can be affected and disability is mild.
Parkinson's disease – Stage 3
In stage 3, movements are moderately slower. Balance is more affected which puts patients at greater risk of falling.
Dressing, bathing, and doing other daily activities have become significantly more difficult.
Parkinson's disease – Stage 4
In stage 4, significant mobility issues require the use of a walker to move around.
Patients need considerable help doing daily activities and are unable to live independently.
Parkinson's disease – Stage 5
In stage 5, balance and movement problems are severe enough that the person needs a wheelchair and nursing care.
They may also have noticeable mental changes, delusions, or hallucinations.
How does Parkinson's disease progress?
Learning about the stages of Parkinson’s can be frightening. However not everyone with Parkinson’s will progress to stage 4 or 5.
It’s important to remember that Parkinson’s affects everyone differently, and you may or may not have all the possible symptoms.
How is Parkinson's disease treated?
Doctors treat Parkinson’s disease with medications to relieve symptoms. Starting these medications does not slow the progression but can provide benefit to patients that improve and maintain their quality of life for many years.
Advanced therapies such as surgical implantation of a deep brain stimulator may also help in select cases as well.
What should I do if I have signs of Parkinson’s disease?
If you suspect Parkinson’s, a careful examination by a specialist in Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders is essential.
You can search for Parkinson’s “Centers of Excellence” which are located in most major cities in the US.
What does Parkinson’s disease mean for me?
It’s also important to learn your treatment options. With today’s medications and treatments, the outlook for people with Parkinson’s is much better than in the past.
You and your doctor can create a personalized treatment plan together.