Parkinsonism was first described by an English doctor who gave his name to the disease. Popularly known as Parkinson's, the disease affects a person's ability to move. It is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that induces spontaneous movements and tremor.
Parkinson's disease affects both men and women, and is found more frequently in the elderly. The average age of the onset of the disease is in the sixties. The disease is neither hereditary nor contagious and is most probably the result of environmental factors. But since we don't know what they are, there is no known way to prevent the disease. Diagnosis is made based on medical findings.
Parkinson's disease is characterized by three main symptoms:
- rigidity (muscle stiffness);
- difficulty initiating movement.
The disease also causes slowness of movement but it does not cause paralysis. Symptoms may be isolated or appear all at once and they usually develop slowly, over time. Many years can go by before the tremors or slow movements impair the person's quality of life. In the beginning, signs of the disease are often attributed to aging.
Parkinson's usually starts with a mild, involuntary tremor in a hand or arm that progressively spreads to both arms and legs until it begins to interfere with daily activities, such as getting dressed and eating. On occasion, the tremor also affects the jaw and head. Parkinsonian tremor is usually more pronounced at rest and in stressful situations. Typically, the tremor decreases during physical activity and stops completely during sleep.
Since people with Parkinson's also have stiff and numb muscles, they may have difficulty getting up, changing position, or walking, or they accomplish these movements more slowly than usual. Because of muscle rigidity, they can also have difficulty keeping their balance and they may develop a characteristic gait of leaning forward and taking shorter steps. In addition, they may have difficulty starting to walk again after having stopped. This gradual loss of control and movement is very disabling.
People with Parkinson's sometimes develop a fixed facial expression, a muffled voice and hand writing that is difficult to read. In some cases, they lose the ability to swallow. However, even though the disease affects how they move, it rarely impairs how they think.
There is no cure for Parkinson's. Most people, however, with adequate therapy, can work and lead a normal life for several years. Adequate therapy consists of both drugs and physical therapy. The drugs are used to control the disease's symptoms, to reduce the tremors, stiffness, and physical slowness. Treatment is individualized and can vary greatly from one patient to another.
If you suffer from Parkinson's, take your medication as prescribed: be sure to take the exact number of tablets at the time indicated. Interrupting therapy will result in a reappearance of your symptoms. Physical therapy and an appropriate physical activity program can also help you regain and retain your mobility. Physical therapy will teach you how to accomplish your daily activities without falling or hurting yourself. It will also help you psychologically.
For more information or for support :
Parkinson Society Canada