Nearly 1 million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease, an incurable movement disorder that worsens over time. Symptoms include tremors of the hands, arms, legs and face; stiffness in the limbs; slowed movement; and impaired balance and coordination, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.
About Parkinson’s Disease
Each year, nearly 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the United States. Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disorder that impairs movement, muscle control and balance. The disease usually affects people between the ages of 55 and 75 years old, but it also can develop in younger people. Although Parkinson’s is not considered fatal, the disease becomes more severe over time.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Typically, the disease initially is diagnosed through symptoms, which may include:
- Tremors (shaking) of the hands, arms, legs and face
- Slowness of movement, especially when initiating motion
- Muscle rigidity
- Difficulty with walking, balance and coordination
- Difficulty eating and swallowing
- Digestive problems
- Speech problems
- Difficulties with memory and thought processes
These symptoms are caused by destruction of certain cells in the brain. Messages from the brain telling the body how and when to move are delivered more slowly, leaving a person incapable of initiating and controlling movements in a normal way.
Treatment for Parkinson’s is directed at relieving symptoms, usually through the use of medication or surgery. Other treatment approaches include general lifestyle modifications, physical therapy, support groups, occupational therapy and speech therapy.
Strides have been made in the past decade that have improved both medications and surgical techniques. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery, a procedure to lessen uncontrolled movements, is not only relieving symptoms but restoring quality of life in many cases.
DBS modulates electrical signals from targeted areas in the brain through the use of electrodes implanted into deep nuclei of the brain. The electrodes deliver impulses that block or override the abnormal brain activity. DBS is an adjustable and reversible treatment modality that does not damage healthy brain tissue.
Some people with Parkinson’s become reclusive because they are embarrassed by their condition.
After they have the DBS procedure, they are able to feed and dress themselves, work, write and enjoy life more. It makes a huge difference for them socially and psychologically. Many patients are able to decrease their medications — another great benefit. Certain people who suffer from Parkinson’s can experience great benefits with surgical intervention.
Research continues to gain ground on this disabling condition in the hope of finding a cure.
New treatments are on the horizon. Research is progressing in the areas of stimulation, gene therapy, cellular transplantation and micro-infusion technologies.