There are some illnesses which are invisible to the naked eye, while there are others that have dramatic effect on the way we comport ourselves and how people react to us. One of the latter is Parkinson’s disease, which affects something like 5 in 1000 people over sixty, growing to 40 in every thousand in those above the age of eighty. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s. Men are more likely to diagnosed than women.
Named after Dr James Parkinson, who wrote “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy” in 1817, Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system that currently has no cure. Occasionally the disease strikes before an individual reaches fifty. Famous sufferers include the three-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali and the actor Michael J. Fox.
If one of your friends or loved ones has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, this article will provide a brief introduction to the condition and its associated risks.
Causes And The Role of Dopamine
Dopamine is a simple organic neurotransmitter that is extremely important to brain function.
Your brain consists of billions of neurons that pass information to one another by electrical impulses. Neurotransmitters are the particles that travel between these neurons.
In basic terms, this means that when the brain is attempting to transmit signals from one neuron to another (because you want to move your hand, for example) Dopamine carries the information across the synaptic cleft from one neuron to the other. It is hence extremely important.
Parkinson’s occurs when the cells in the substantia nigra that generate Dopamine begin to die off. Without enough Dopamine, the brain cannot adequately transmit information and thus a person can no longer function normally.
It is not known why the cells that create Dopamine begin to die off, and indeed the disease is often described as idiopathic (having no known cause). Sometimes doctors are able to pinpoint a genetic origin, but this is unusual.
Symptoms and Prognosis
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are typically evident in the movement of an individual. These include a stooped gait, shaking, slowness of movement and rigidity. Posture can also be affected, leading to loss of balance and a heightened risk of falls.
The prognosis for the disease is broken down into five stages, but progression ultimately varies from individual to individual. Left untreated, Parkinson’s would typically render someone bedridden after ten years, whereas with treatment this might be extended to fifteen or more.
There are number of ways that PD is treated. The most common is the use of Levodopa, which helps to replace the lost Dopamine in the brain. Unfortunately the body tends to re-absorb Levadopa in areas other than the brain, and eventually produces negative side effects of its own.
Other drugs, surgery and rehabilitation are also used to manage the progression of the disease.
The biggest risk associated with Parkinson’s disease (other than the development of related conditions like Dementia and Depression) is that the sufferer is injured in day to day life as a result of their loss of motor control.
Activities that were once taken for granted, like drinking a cup of hot tea, taking a walk in the park or climbing the stairs can become increasingly unmanageable and require ever more assistance. The latter is one of the worst dangers to result from Parkinson’s.
Whilst moving house can present a number of problems of its own, installing a stairlift for outdoors is one way of minimising the risk of a painful fall and maintaining a better quality of life.
At the moment there are no easy answers for dealing with Parkinson’s disease, only ways of mitigating its impact, both through medical methods and carefully adapting lifestyle.
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