Parkinson's: Not Just a Disease of Your Grandparents : by Dr. De Leon

Parkinson’s can affect young and old in all walks of life, although it is typically more common in those over 55 (known as Idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease). But it can strike young people even in their 20’s (younger age prior to 40 is known as Young Onset Parkinson’s). In the United States there are nearly 1.5 million people living with this condition and countless others who dedicate their lives to their care. Many of these individuals reside right in your community where you live. The financial burden not to mention the social and emotional devastation which is ever increasing is leaving many of these patients and their families isolated and destitute. Therefore, this April as we celebrate Parkinson’s Awareness Month nationwide, I like to invite each and every one of you to join me in honoring someone with Parkinson’s disease by doing whatever it takes to find a cure and ease their burden.
One way of honoring these individuals is by staying informed so that together we can raise awareness.
The more you know, the better equipped you are at helping your friends and neighbors who have to struggle with a chronic progressive neurodegenerative disease to find ways of coping. Parkinson’s disease is characterized by loss of a black substance deep in the brain known as the basal ganglia. This chemical called dopamine is responsible for our fine motor movements, coordination, muscle control as well as responsible for playing a key role in the reward-pleasure seeking behaviors in our lives.

4 main motor Symptoms Of Parkinson’s are :
Rest tremors
Gait instability
Muscle stiffness
Slowness (of movements)

Other non-motor symptoms include:
Loss of smell
Anxiety/depression
Constipation
Sleep disorders/restless leg/ REM behavior
Memory loss/ cognitive problems
Pain
Fatigue
Bladder problems
Visual problems

Risk factors:
Advancing age
Male gender
Decrease estrogen /early hysterectomy with ovary removal
Environmental toxins
Low Folate levels
Agricultural workers, well water consumption
Repeated head trauma or severe head injury
( others less known risk factors)
Hispanic ethnicity
Family or personal history of essential tremors
Family history of Parkinson’s
History of restless leg or REM behavior
History of anxiety/mood disorders
History of chronic constipation

If you have any of these symptoms please make sure you seek advice of a healthcare provider immediately. Although, there are no blood test to confirm diagnosis under the care of a specialist ( neurologist / or movement disorder specialist ) the diagnosis can be nearly 95 % accurate. Similarly, in the hands of a specialist the quality of life of Parkinson’s patients has been shown to be improved in several studies despite the fact there is no cure.
By seeking treatment from a specialist early on, the many medications (Sinemet is still the goal standard) and surgeries including deep brain stimulation ( DBS) can be used with greater efficacy.

So, what can you do to help and support those that have Parkinson’s in your community?
You can find a Parkinson’s study nearby and volunteer – Most studies in this country and I imagine in other countries as well never fill; one of the reasons why it takes so long to get new drug treatments. Or you may volunteer to drive a friend to a study.
Share the Parkinson’s information you learned with others.
Find a friend with Parkinson’s and exercise, swim, cycle, or take dance or yoga classes together- these have shown to improve the quality of life in Parkinson’s patients and increase mobility.
Join a Parkinson’s support group or start a support group.
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Dr. M. De Leon is a movement disorder specialist on sabbatical, PPAC member and research advocate for PDF (Parkinson’s Disease Foundation); Texas State Assistant Director for PAN (Parkinson’s Action Network). You can learn more about her work at http://www.facebook.com/defeatparkinsons101 you can also learn more about Parkinson’s disease at www.pdf.org or at www.wemove.org; http://www.aan.org, http://www.defeatparkinsons.blogspot.com

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