While the human body goes about it’s day-to-day business, there are countless chemical reactions taking place each second that facilitate all of the body’s activities – both the conscious and the unconscious. If the production of one of these chemicals subsides or ceases altogether, there are often dramatic effects. Parkinson’s Disease occurs when the brain reduces its productions of an important neurotransmitter called dopamine.
While Parkinson’s Disease is not considered a fatal disease, the side effects have serious implications for the quality of life for the patient. From a loss of sensory perception to Parkinson’s telltale tremors, there is hardly any part of a patient’s physical, mental and emotional well-being that is left untouched by the disease. As a result, modern medicine’s goal is to find ways to slow down its progression and alleviate the symptoms as much as possible to maintain and/or enhance the patient’s quality of life.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
The substantia nigra is located in the mid-brain and is responsible for the production of the aforementioned dopamine. This neurotransmitter (a chemical that helps to transmit messages from one neuron to another) is critical to some pretty important biological and physiological processes including:
- Muscle movement
- Emotional responses
- Sensations of reward, desire or pleasure
- Memory, problem solving and other cognitive skills
When the production of dopamine is reduced the side-effects are most typically noticed in these areas.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s?
Tremors are the most typically recognized side effect of Parkinson’s disease although the symptoms often begin to emerge years or even a decade before tremors or other significant motor skills are affected. Some of the earliest signs of the disease are a decrease in the sense of smell (hyposmia), constipation and sleep disorders. Doctors are being trained to pay attention to these subtle clues to facilitate treatment as soon as Parkinson’s can be diagnosed.
Additional Parkinson’s symptoms include:
- Speech difficulty, including softer vocalizations
- Walking without swinging the arms
- Rigid muscles
- Less expressive facial expressions (called the Parkinson’s mask)
- Stooped posture
- Changes in writing, typically the writing becomes much smaller
If you notice any of these symptoms in a loved one, schedule an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible so diagnostic testing can begin. There isn’t a specific blood test or brain scan that “guarantees” the diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Rather, your doctor will run a series of tests and the results of these will lead to a diagnostic conclusion.
What is the treatment for Parkinson’s Disease?
There is no cure for Parkinson’s treatment. Instead, doctors will use a combination of drugs, physical therapy and lifestyle recommendations to slow down its progress, alleviate as many of the side effects as possible and to help a Parkinson’s patient to become more comfortable.
Not surprisingly, a healthy diet is important since the body needs all the nutrients it can get to remain as strong, energized and alert as possible. Regular exercise is also important to keep the muscles and bones of the body strong and to maintain balance. As the disease progresses, an occupational therapist may be necessary to help the patient and/or caregivers learn how to make day-to-day tasks as easy as possible.
Parkinson’s patients are very susceptible to falling since their motor coordination and balance deteriorates overtime. Making appropriate changes in the home in regards to lighting, handrails, the elimination of trip hazards, ramps, etc. are advised sooner rather than later to avoid an unnecessary trip and fall accident.