What is Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson's Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects body movement. This condition is caused due the deficiency of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that is responsible for controlling body movements. Parkinson's is a chronic (persists for a long time) and progressive disorder, that is, the brain cells gradually degenerate and symptoms worsen over time. Parkinson's is not contagious and cannot be cured.
What are the causes of Parkinson's disease?
The cause of Parkinson's is unknown but medical experts observe that the condition may be caused due to certain genetic or environmental factors. However, the symptoms and severity may vary from one person to another.
Genetic factors: Certain genetic mutations have been identified that may increase the risk of Parkinson's. Research is still under progress.
Environmental factors: Some scientists attribute that exposure to toxins may affect the nerve cells that produce dopamine.
Additional risk factors:
Age: One of the major risk factors is advancing age, mostly over 60 years. But the condition can start much earlier.
Gender: Men are at a slightly higher risk when compared to women.
Family history: If any first level relative (mother, father, sibling) in the family was affected with Parkinson's, then the person may be at a higher risk of developing the condition.
Head injury: Traumatic brain injury could cause the condition.
What are the signs of Parkinson's disease?
In the beginning, the symptoms of Parkinson's may be very mild and the person or family members may not be able to recognize them. The number of symptoms and severity may vary from one person to the other.
The major symptoms include:
Tremor (trembling or shaking). As the disease progresses, the shaking or tremor may increase considerably disrupting daily activities.
Stiffness of muscles that inhibit muscle movement thereby causing pain.
Slowness of movement and difficulty in maintaining posture and balance
Problems with speech and swallowing
Cramps or a pulling sensation in the muscles that are painful
Difficulty in writing
It is observed that several neurological systems that control sleep, smell, bowel and bladder movement are also affected.
What Parkinson's disease is not
As a person grows old, there are several changes in his or her health and well-being. An elderly person may sometimes lose balance while walking, may lose sense of smell due to cold or flu. A person suffering from an injury or any other illness such as arthritis may find it difficult with body movement. This is not a sign of Parkinson's disease.
How is Parkinson's disease diagnosed?
There is no single test for Parkinson's, making it a difficult disease to diagnose. Doctors use medical history and neurological examination to diagnose the condition. Before confirming the condition as Parkinson's, doctors may conduct brain scan or laboratory tests to rule out the possibility of other illness that could cause the above mentioned symptoms.
What are treatment options for Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson's disease cannot be cured but a specific treatment plan and medication can help control your symptoms. Making some lifestyle changes like exercising regularly, eating nutritious food and maintaining a balanced diet, having a regular sleep routine, and keeping yourself active, may help cope with the condition. Physical therapy that focuses on balance and stretching may also be beneficial. Speech therapy may help in improving speech.
How do you help help someone cope with Parkinson's disease?
Living with any chronic illness can be difficult, and it is natural to feel angry, frustrated, depressed, and discouraged. Emotional support and care from the family goes a long way in helping you cope with the illness. Joining a support group and interacting with people who are facing the same problem will help in getting the necessary support.
Over the years, it has been observed that depression is becoming predominantly common among patients with Parkinson's. The changes in the brain that cause problems with movement also cause changes in mood, thus causing depression. The person may experience most of the symptoms of depression, and may find it difficult to cope with the illness, which in turn, can affect the quality of life. Treating depression is important as it alleviates suffering and all other symptoms become more manageable.
How to care for someone with Parkinson's disease?
When your loved one is diagnosed with Parkinson's, it can be a life-changing experience for the person, for you, and your entire family. As a caregiver, your role becomes extremely important, because the person may need constant attention and care.
Since Parkinson's disease progresses slowly, caregiving can last for many years, and can be exhausting.
This can affect the caregiver's physical and emotional health to a large extent. Caregivers may experience loss of immunity, sleep deprivation, which can cause irritability and frustration. It is also observed that caregivers are at a high risk of depression, anxiety. Hence, caregivers also need to take care of their physical and emotional well-being.
The family can also benefit from speaking to a mental health expert and understanding about the illness, so that they learn to empathize with their family member and also provide the needed support and care.