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Senior Life: Parkinson's Disease

Senior Life: Parkinson's Disease

Senior Spotlight April 2022 Article

Parkinson’s Disease

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Parkinson’s disease, or PD, is a condition affecting nearly one million people in the United States and ten million around the world. PD is a neurodegenerative disorder that mainly affects neurons that produce dopamine in the brain. Lewy bodies, or accumulation of abnormal alpha-synuclein, are found in the brain of patients with PD. Following Alzheimer’s disease, PD is the second most common neurodegenerative disease. Symptoms typically are slow to develop over several years and vary by person. While PD is not a fatal condition, it can have serious complications. In the United States, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rates complications from PD as the 14th cause of death.

Cause and Diagnosis

It is generally unknown what specifically leads to Parkinson’s disease, but is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There is not a specific test for diagnosing PD, but two out of four primary symptoms must be present in a certain time period in order for a neurologist to consider this diagnosis. This includes:

  1. Tremor or shaking
  2. Bradykinesia (slow movements)
  3. Stiffness or rigidity in the legs, arms, or trunk
  4. Trouble with balance (possibly falls)
Symptoms

Dopamine’s main responsibility in the body is to control movement, the ability to feel pain and pleasure, and emotional responses. As PD progresses, dopamine production is slowly decreased until there essentially is no more, leading to problems with movement. Patients with PD typically experience symptoms later in the course of their disease. PD is considered to be a movement disorder due to tremors it can cause as well as the stiffening and slowing of movements.

Symptoms of PD may include both motor (movement) and non-motor symptoms:

  • Tremor, mainly when at rest (described as pill rolling tremor in hands)
  • Rigid limbs
  • Problems with balance and gait
  • Bradykinesia (slow movement)
  • Dyskinesia (involuntary, erratic movements)
  • Shuffling gait
  • Drooling
  • Constipation
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Depression
  • Sleep behavior disorders
  • Apathy (lack of interest or concern)
  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive changes (including problems with attention, memory, or speech)
  • Increased urinary frequency or incontinence

Patients who experience symptoms of PD are recommended to make an appointment with a specialist. The Parkinson’s Foundation has a free Helpline where they can help connect patients with a specialist in their community. The phone number is: 1-800-473-4636, Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 6 PM CST.

Treatment

Currently, there is not a cure to Parkinson’s disease, but research is being done to try and find new ways to diagnose the condition earlier. Work is being done to discover treatments that will slow disease progression as current treatments only improve symptoms. Current treatment options include medications and surgery as well as lifestyle changes such as exercise and more rest. Certain therapies, such as physical or occupational, can be of great help for patients at all stages of PD. Because patients with PD have decreased or low levels of dopamine in their brain, they need medications to replace this. It is common for patients with PD to take multiple medications. This may include a complicated regimen made up of different doses that are dosed at multiple times throughout the day.

If you or a loved one are taking medications for Parkinson’s disease, talk to your Lewis Pharmacist today to see how they can help you better manage and remember each dose. Taking medications as prescribed will ensure the best control of symptoms and help to avoid unpleasant symptoms when doses are missed.

References

Parkinson’s Foundation. https://www.parkinson.org/. February 27, 2022.

Hamza TH, et al. Genome-Wide Gene-Environment Study Identifies Glutamate Receptor Gene GRIN2A as a Parkinson’s Disease Modifier Gene via Interaction with Coffee. PLoS Genet 2011;7(8): e1002237.

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