World Parkinson’s Day: Treating for Normalcy

Parkinson’s disease is the world’s second most common neurodegenerative disorder behind Alzheimer’s. April is Parkinson’s Awareness month, with 11th April being Parkinson’s awareness day. People need to be more informed about the disorder in order to understand the patients and be sensitive towards them. Each year international communities come together on this day to raise awareness of the illness. With events taking place across the globe, experts are constantly trying to raise vital funds for research and cure.

Parkinson’s is caused by a loss of a nerve cell in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. Experts believe it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the damage of nerve cells in the brain. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder, which means that over time, the brain of an individual living with the disease becomes more damaged. The dopamine level in the body is affected by Parkinson’s. Dopamine is responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells in the brain. The main symptom of Parkinson’s involves the involuntary shaking, slower movements and the usual stiffness in the muscles. Other symptoms may include difficulty balancing, nerve pain, incontinence, insomnia, excessive sweating, depression and anxiety.

While there is no known cure for Parkinson’s Disorder, symptoms may be controlled through treatments. The most common form of treatment used for Parkinson’s is medication.  With the help of drug treatments, doctors aim at increasing the dopamine level that reaches the brain and stimulates the parts of the brain where dopamine works. However, the medication for each person differs according to their vitals. As the symptoms of the disorder progress, the drugs used to treat the condition may need to be changed. While the drug treatment may help to manage Parkinson’s symptoms, it cannot slow the progression of the disease. Supportive treatments like physiotherapy and occupational therapy also prove to be helpful for people with Parkinson’s. Sometimes brain surgeries are also done to improve the condition.

Many people respond well to treatments and only experience mild to moderate disability, whereas a minority of people may not respond well to the treatments, and in time can become seriously disabled. Carbidopa/Levodopa remains the most effective symptomatic therapy and is available in many strengths and formulations. It also may be used in combination with other classes of medications including Dopamine Agonists, COMT Inhibitors, MAO Inhibitors, and Anticholinergic agents. Physical therapy can improve gait and direct an individual to the right exercise regimen. Occupational therapy can be used to maximize fine motor skills. Speech therapy can be useful to address speech and language problems that may arise with Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s does not directly cause people to die. However, the condition can place great strain for the body and cause some people to become vulnerable to serious illness and life-threatening infections. With advances in treatment, most people with Parkinson’s now have normal or near-normal life expectancy.

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