Parkinson’s Disease, famously named after James Parker who published an essay on the neurodegenerative disease in 1918, is a condition that affects the body’s ability to move. Parkinson’s Disease occurs when cells that produce a chemical known as dopamine die, resulting in symptoms such as body tremors, stiffness, slowness and muscle rigidity. Parkinson’s Disease currently affects over 100,000 Canadians, with approximately 6,000 new cases of the disease being diagnosed in Canada every year.
Most diagnoses of Parkinson’s Disease are in individuals over the age of 60. However, although rare, individuals under the age of 50 (sometimes as young as 40) can also develop the disease. This is known as young-onset Parkinson’s. While there are no known causes of Parkinson’s Disease, genetics and exposure to certain toxins have been thought to play a part, in addition to viral infections. Individuals who have a parent or sibling with Parkinson’s Disease are also twice as likely to develop it themselves in the future.
Parkinson’s Disease is separated by two stages. Early stage, where symptoms appear and affect one’s everyday routines such as dressing themselves, hygiene, and even walking; and Advanced stage, when motor complications begin to occur.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease usually only affect one side of the body. The most common symptom of Parkinson’s Disease is tremors – uncontrollable shaking that usually starts with the hands. Muscles can also become stiff or tense, causing pain, and you may also notice loss or slowness of movement, which is scientifically known as Brandykinesia. In advanced stages of Parkinson’s, patients may also experience lack of coordination and balance, which can lead to falling. Tiredness, sleep problems, cognitive impairment, depression, and difficulty eating or swallowing are all also symptoms of the disease.
Given that there is no known cause of Parkinson’s or tests that can help diagnose the disease, treatment is based solely on the symptoms presented by the patient. A physician will not only pay attention to the manifestations of Parkinson’s, but will also usually go over a patient’s complete medical history to help determine appropriate treatment. One of the most commonly prescribed and effective medications used to help treat Parkinson’s Disease is a medication called Carbidopa-Levodopa, which releases a natural chemical into the brain that converts to dopamine. MAO-B Inhibitors may also be used to help prevent dopamine from breaking down, as well as Anticholinergics to control tremors associated with Parkinson’s. Side-effects to these medications can include light-headedness, nausea, insomnia, constipation, dry mouth, confusion and hallucinations, so it is important to discuss the risks and benefits of these medications with your physician.
In addition to patients receiving continued care from their physicians, there are also various support groups in Canada for individuals living with Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson Canada, the national voice for Canadians living with Parkinson’s, has been operating since 1965 and provides a broad range of resources for people and families of those living with Parkinson’s Disease, as well as have educational workshops, seminars and other support services. Similarly, the Parkinson Society of British Columbia, which is located in Vancouver, also helps to support individuals with Parkinson’s in addition to working on research in effort to find a cure.