Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
April is national Parkinson’s disease awareness month. Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder of the nervous system. It is marked by tremors, muscular rigidity, and slow imprecise movement. Most commonly it is diagnosed in middle-age to older adults.
Parkinson’s disease slowly damages the central nervous system which is made up of the brain and spine. The cells, made up of dopamine, are found in the brain and begin to die. Dopamine is a form of neuro transmitter that the body produces and the nervous system uses to send message between nerve cells. Dopamine is associated with pleasure and our unique human ability to think and plan.
While the cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, several factors seem to be contributors including genes, environmental triggers such as exposure to toxins, age, heredity and sex. Men are 1.5 times more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than women.
Nearly one million people in the U.S. had a Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2020 with approximately 60,000 new diagnoses each year. Only 4% of people are diagnosed before age 50.
Early signs may be different for everyone. In fact, initially they may be mild and almost unnoticeable. Speech may become soft or slurred, arms may not swing when walking, and the face may appear expressionless. Most people notice changes on one side of the body, which worsen even after symptoms start to affect the entire body.
Because Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, the first step to living well is to understand its progression. People with Parkinson’s can still have a great quality of life.
Complications can accompany Parkinson’s. Problems with thinking can occur in later stages, whereas depression and emotional changes often present in early stages. Challenges with swallowing, chewing, and eating can progress over time as can issues with sleep.
Because every case of Parkinson’s is individualized, there is no absolute standardized care plan. Treatment can include lifestyle modification, medication, and surgical options. Physical, occupational, and speech therapy may be critical to the treatment plan. Some people find complementary therapies such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture (and more) beneficial.
Parkinson’s is a complex disease that requires an interdisciplinary approach. One of the most important things to do if diagnosed with Parkinson’s is to assemble a care team to provide physical and emotional support. This team will work on adapting to circumstances over time and the best way to remain healthy. In addition to a personal support team such as spouse, family member, and close friends, a team may include a primary care physician, rehab specialists, a nutritionist, social worker, psychologist, movement disorder specialist, and more.
The people chosen to be part of a care team should be those you can develop a good partnership. Equally important is encouraging those caring for someone with Parkinson’s disease to focus on their health. Look for resources, a support group, stay active and ask for help. Remember, as a caregiver your care to your loved one is beyond measure.
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