Parkinson's disease is a complex nerve disorder that affects movement. Around 1 in 500 people are affected by this disease. Symptoms start slowly, usually in those over 50 years old, and progress over time. The main symptoms are tremor, stiffness, and slowed movement and it can significantly affect their day-to-day activites. There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but medication can be used to improve symptoms and the majority of people do respond well to it.
For unclear reasons, there is a reduction in nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This then leads to a significant reduction in dopamine, an important chemical which when levels are low causes body movements to be un-coordinated and slowed.
The three main symptoms of Parkinson's disease are tremor, stiffness, and slowed movement. The symptoms start slowly usually with a tremor affecting one hand and begin to get progressively worse.
Other symptoms include a change in posture and the way they walk; becoming more hunched with a short shuffling gait and arms that don't swing much when you walk, making them more prone to falls. There may be a lack of facial expressions and softer, more slurred speech. People with Parkinson's may also experience problems sleeping, worsening memory and depression, and anxiety.
There is no test that can diagnose Parkinson's disease. Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and how it affects your daily activity. They will ask you to complete a memory test to understand the severity of your symptoms and assess how you walk.
In the early stages, Parkinson's can be quite difficult to diagnose. If your doctor thinks you may have Parkinson's, they will refer you to a specialist who will ask you to perform more detailed exercises and activities. At times to confirm whether you have Parkinson's, your doctor may try you on a medication - to see if your symptoms respond well.
There is no cure for Parkinson's, but treatment has been very effective in reducing the progression of the disease and improving life expectancy.
If the symptoms are mild, not much may be needed in terms of treatment. More severe symptoms may require occupational therapists, who can ensure your home is safe and correct provisions are made and physiotherapists - to support your posture, balance, and movement.
Medications such as levodopa can be tried in combination with other medications. In rare cases, brain surgery may be undertaken. Your specialist doctor will monitor you regularly. The Parkinsons UK charity is a great resource for further information.
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