Parkinson’s disease is a condition that affects the way your body moves when there is a problem with how the brain’s nerve cells function. These cells produce a chemical known as dopamine, which is responsible for sending signals to your brain that controls body movement. However, when an individual has Parkinson’s disease, these cells break down, which leads to having trouble moving or being able to control body movement.
Canadian-born actor, Michael J. Fox, made headlines back in 1998 when he, at the age of 36, announced that he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Since then, he has been a strong advocate of Parkinson’s research and, in 2000, created the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is aimed towards finding better treatments and, ultimately, a cure for the progressive disease.
While Parkinson’s disease typically affects people aged 60 or older, it can also affect individuals much younger, as was the case with Michael J. Fox. This is known as young-onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD.) Approximately 10% of people fall into this category.
In the last 10 years, studies have shown that there may be both genetic and environmental factors that play a role in the development of Parkinson’s disease. However, as there are no specific tests or biomarkers that can accurately diagnose it, Parkinson’s will often go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed all together until symptoms progress.
The cardinal symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are the ones that affect the body’s motor function – such as slower movement, unusual body stiffness, and uncontrollable tremors. Other motor-related symptoms that a patient may exhibit include difficulty standing or walking, in addition to problems with coordination. Non-motor symptoms include cognitive impairment (such as the ability to concentrate or multi-task), mood disorders (such as depression and anxiety), difficulty sleeping, unexplained pain, loss of smell, drooling, and difficulty with speech and swallowing.
Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are certain medications that can be prescribed to help ease the aforementioned symptoms, including dopamine replacement therapy medications, anticholinergic medications, pain medications and more. The type of medications that are prescribed are fully dependent on the symptoms (and severity) that the patient is experiencing.
There are also certain symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that may, in fact, not be brought on by Parkinson’s disease at all and may have been caused by other medical conditions entirely, so it is important to have a good check-up with your physician in order to rule out any other possibilities. Vancouver physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary, also says it’s important to take note of all symptoms you’re experiencing and write them all down if you can. You can also ask yourself some key questions, such as: Have you slowed down in regards to your daily activities? Is there a change in your speech? Do you notice any abnormal shaking? Has your posture worsened? While not definitive of Parkinson’s disease, if you answer ‘yes’ to any of these, then it is worth having a discussion with your family doctor.
Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s can be difficult, and some patients may have a hard time coping with their diagnosis, which can lead to a decrease in mental health. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s always important to remember that you can reach out to your physician to discuss any of your concerns. It’s also important to stay engaged in activities that you enjoy, as this can work as a distraction and significantly reduce stress. Physical activities such as walking or yoga are great ideas, as are hobbies like painting and travel. There are also support groups out there, and many patients find that speaking others who are experiencing what they’re going through to be beneficial – not to mention it’s a great way to make new friends!
If you would like more data on Parkinson’s disease, visit Parkinson.ca. There, you will be able to find an abundance of free resources available and you can even participate in webinars. You can also find more information by following Dr. Ali Ghahary on Twitter at @DrAliGhahary, as well as by following him on Instagram at instagram.com/alighahary.