Parkinson’s Disease: Signs, Symptoms, Solutions

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, so let’s take a look at this widely-known but hardly-understood disease.

By now, most of us have heard about Parkinson’s disease—and many learned about it in 1998, when the actor Michael J. Fox made public his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (and subsequently launched a foundation commited to researching and finding a cure for the disease).

But there’s so much we don’t know about Parkinson’s disease (PD). Our lack of knowledge is deepened by the mysterious origins of PD itself.

Scientists believe Parkinson’s originates via a combo of genetic and environmental factors, but it’s such a diverse disorder—with no two people experiencing PD the exact same way—that it’s difficult to get a concrete definition.

Doesn’t mean we can’t try!

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that effects nearly 1 million people in the United States—more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to the Parkinson’s foundation. Men are nearly twice as likely to have PD than women.

Typical onset is age 60, though some develop it by age 50. Very few are afflicted with Parkinson’s earlier, though it’s not unheard of; Michael J. Fox, for instance, started his ongoing battle with Parkinson’s at age 29.

The onset of PD occurs when the brain’s nerve cells that control movement—the basal ganglia—become impaired and/or perish.

Photo courtesy the National Institute on Aging

The basal ganglia cells create dopamine, a neurotransmitter that, among other things, plays a huge role in how we feel pleasure; it’s how we think and plan and smile and work.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease symptoms are divided into three categories: pre-motor, motor, and cognitive.

But as we mentioned earlier, PD is different for everyone, so not every will experience all three categories, nor in their precise numerical order.

Category 1: Pre-motor symptoms

Category 1 is more difficult to diagnose than its counterparts because the symptoms aren’t “typically Parkinson’s,” as in they do not involve any motor disturbances.

Category 2: Motor symptoms

The motor symptoms are simpler to diagnose and recognize than Category 1’s symptoms.

  • tremors
  • rigidity
  • slow movement
  • balance problems
  • walking or gait difficulties
  • involuntary muscle contractions (dystonia)
  • vocal symptoms, such as
    • softened voice
    • monotone
    • trouble with pronunciation
    • shaky, strained voice

Category 3: Cognitive symptoms

As the name implies, Category 3 involves disturbances and abnormalities in the functioning of the brain.

  • problems with attention
  • slowed mental processing
  • trouble with problem-solving
  • trouble with executive functioning (working memory, flexible thinking, self-control, etc.)
  • memory deficits
  • language abnormalities
  • visuospatial difficulties

So what happens next? Is Parkinson’s disease fatal?

Parkinson’s disease, on its own, is not fatal—but some of its symptoms can be. The two most common causes of death in patients diagnosed with PD are falls and pneumonia.

Falling down

Balance and coordination issues, common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, can lead to severe injury and in some cases, death. The older you are, the more dangerous a fall can be.

Pneumonia

Some PD sufferers experience difficulty with swallowing, or an outright inability to swallow at all. This can lead to aspiration pneumonia, which is when food, saliva, liquids, or vomit is breathed into the lungs instead of being swallowed into the esophagus and stomach.

And so…

To end on a paradoxically dour and uplifting note:

No, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease.

Yes, scientists are making huge headways in research, and there are a multitude of treatment options currently available

If you or a loved one have experienced any of the symptoms listed above, or are generally concerned with the potential of contracting Parkinson’s disease, contact your doctor.

You can also reach out to a PHMP Health Coach by phone (1-855-498-4643) or email (coaches@thephmp.com)

837 Comments
  • Victor
    Posted at 07:51h, 08 May

    Thanks

  • Traci Stubbe
    Posted at 14:36h, 06 May

    Thank you!

  • Ann Guetterman
    Posted at 11:22h, 06 May

    Interesting…

  • Susan Fisher
    Posted at 09:55h, 05 May

    interesting information

  • Kathy Willie
    Posted at 04:39h, 05 May

    Good info

  • Vesna Corlukic
    Posted at 19:15h, 04 May

    Thank you

  • Larry Junk
    Posted at 13:30h, 04 May

    Wow.
    Thanks

  • Margaret Hamlin
    Posted at 09:00h, 04 May

    Thank you.

  • SAMANTHA DIAZ
    Posted at 17:33h, 03 May

    Thank you

  • Kenneth+Lugenbeel
    Posted at 15:24h, 03 May

    Great information!

  • Xaviera Williams
    Posted at 13:29h, 03 May

    Very interesting…

  • Juan Lopez
    Posted at 13:21h, 03 May

    Good information

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