Parkinson’s disease affects approximately 1-2% of people over the age of 60, however no two patients experience this common neurodegenerative condition in exactly the same way. While the most common presenting symptom is tremors of the hands, the disease takes many forms and presents an array of symptoms, including tremors, muscle stiffness or slowness and problems with walking. Consequently, it becomes important for doctors to individualize the care of their patients suffering from this condition.
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?
While the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease remains unknown, researchers continue to investigate the potential cause. A leading theory is that a protein called alpha synuclein becomes misfolded and clumps together with other proteins to form Lewy bodies. As Parkinson’s disease progresses, these Lewy bodies spread out in the brain causing the loss of a brain chemical called dopamine. Much of the treatment of Parkinson’s disease relies on replacing this important brain chemical.
What Treatment Options Should I Discuss with My Doctor?
There are many possible treatments for Parkinson’s disease depending on the patient, with the mainstay of medication treatment being carbidopa-levodopa. This medication came out in the 1970’s and remains the most important medication in the treatment of people with the disease today. Typically, patients with Parkinson’s disease start on a low dose of this medication and gradually increase until there is an effective dose. After being on this medication for a prolonged period, patients may develop side effects where the medication is no longer as beneficial. These individuals begin to have periods of time where they experience uncontrolled movements of their limbs or feel like they cannot move at all. Usually, patients see these effects after they have been on this class of medications for approximately five years.
A recent breakthrough in treatment for patients with Parkinson’s disease is deep brain stimulation surgery. This procedure requires inserting tiny electrodes into a particular area of the basal ganglia. The electrodes send electric impulses to some of the key structures affected by Parkinson’s disease. While not recommended for all patients, surgery is a possible option for patients who do not see improvement on medications alone. Neurologists at Crozer-Chester Medical Center are available for both the evaluation for this type of surgery and the follow up appointments to manage the stimulator settings.
Can I Prevent Parkinson’s Disease?
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent a person from getting Parkinson’s disease. One of the most important ways a patient can intervene on their own behalf to treat their Parkinson’s disease is to get frequent exercise. I particularly recommend weight-bearing exercises to my patients, such as regular walking/jogging, Tai Chi, yoga and Pilates.
Other features of Parkinson’s disease may also affect mood and memory, so it is important for the patient to seek appropriate help with those difficulties as well. The diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can be a life-changing event, but in these circumstances a person’s outlook and willingness to work to overcome obstacles is critical.
For more information or to speak with a neurologist, please contact the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorder Center at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.