Understanding Parkinson’s Disease

Posted on April 10, 2019 by kerri
Parkinson’s disease is nervous system disorder that affects your ability to move [1]. While it is most often a disorder that affects older people—the average age of onset is age 60—some people will be diagnosed at age 40 or younger. [2] While people often know the basics of Parkinson’s Disease, I have learned a lot over the past couple of years from my friend Jasmine, a woman in her 20s with Juvenile Onset Parkinson’s Disease that onset during her teenage years—more on her in a bit!
This week is Parkinson’s Awareness Week. While many of us are aware of some of the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease—such as tremor or difficulty walking—there is much more to Parkinson’s than that.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease does not have a known cause; there may be links to genetics when a family member also has Parkinson’s disease—research indicates environmental toxins also may have a role, but the risk is low. [1]
Common major symptoms associated with Parkinson’s Disease [PD] include [1]:
  • Tremor in a limb, often affecting the hand or fingers. Tremors may occur when at rest.
  • Slowed movement, known as bradykinesia. This is responsible for the shuffle-type walk that often affects people with Parkinson’s—steps become shorter and your feet may drag. Everyday movements and tasks can become very time (and energy) consuming.
  • Rigid or stiff muscles
  • Difficulty or inability to maintaining straight posture or balance.
  • Speech problems—speaking quietly/softly, slurring or hesitating. Speech may have a monotonous quality.
  • Difficulty writing; writing may appear small
  • Loss of involuntary/unconscious movements—decrease in movements that are automatic, such as blinking, swinging arms while you walk, or smiling.
It is important to see a doctor if you believe you have symptoms that could be Parkinson disease, as treatments can greatly improve your quality of life. Other symptoms may also arise with progression of PD.
Treating Parkinson’s Disease
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but medications and in some cases surgery can help manage symptoms.
There are a wide variety of medication types that play a role in treating PD. The most common is a medicine called Levodopa, which is converted into dopamine [1]. Parkinson’s disease is caused by dopamine creating nerve cells “dying off”, and 80% or more of these cells will have died by the time PD symptoms onset, [3] so medicines that can be converted into dopamine are cornerstones of treatment. There are other different types of medicines available.
Another treatment for PD is the implantation of a Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) device). This option may be used when a person has advanced PD and poor response to medications; DBS primarily helps manage tremor by an implanted device that sends electrical pulses to the brain. [1]
I became aware of DBS when I met Jasmine, who I mentioned above. I think the best way to truly understand what successful DBS treatment can look like, is to watch this video of Jasmine turning off her deep brain stimulator, taking note of just how quickly she goes from showing no outward signs of her PD, to the symptoms she would experience continually without this device—and how quickly her symptoms are alleviated when she starts DBS back up.
As Jasmine notes, DBS can be reprogrammed to provide continued management of symptoms when Parkinson disease progresses—DBS does not slow the progression of Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s Disease Medical ID Jewelry
If you live with PD it is important to wear a Parkinson disease medical ID bracelet or Parkinson’s disease medical alert necklace. As well, if you live with any sort of implanted medical device, medical ID jewelry is important—such as for those with an implanted deep brain stimulator (DBS) device. Because everyone’s needs are different in their medical jewelry, My Identity Doctor offers custom engraving on all of our styles for your specific diagnosis or implanted device medical ID needs.

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