Research shows that 1 in 500 people in the UK are affected by Parkinson’s disease.
Cells in the brain stop working properly and are lost over time. These cells make a chemical called dopamine, which lubricates the part of our brain that controls movement.
With too little dopamine, early symptoms may include shaking, rigidity and slowness of movement. Over time, people can experience depression and anxiety, memory problems and dementia.
More than a third of people in the UK with Parkinson’s disease feel the need to hide their symptoms or lie about having the condition.
The more we talk openly about it, the better we will understand the symptoms, so that sufferers can be treated with care and respect.
What causes Parkinson’s disease?
Doctors and scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes Parkinson’s disease. However, research shows that a small number of people may have an increased risk due to their genes.
Another interesting discovery in California found a connection between harmful pesticides and toxins used in agriculture and the disease. Those who drink water from private wells are much more likely to have Parkinson’s.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s does not move in a straight line, and it’s hard to predict exactly how it will progress from person to person. However, the disease does follow a broad pattern. Changes tend to come on slowly, with symptoms usually getting worse over time.
The most common symptoms are as follows:
“Tremors are a rhythmic movement,” says Dr Herrington, and are the most common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. The movement is repetitive and can affect the whole body or just one part of it like the thumb or head. They tend to be worse when a person is sitting still and are exacerbated by stress.
Changes in walking
Another early sign of Parkinson’s disease is a change in walking style. A person may notice that their arms stop swinging naturally when they walk, feeling much stiffer. People also sometimes say their feet seem “stuck to the floor”.
People who suffer from Parkinson’s disease find it hard to relax their muscles, which can make sleeping and eating a challenge. It’s important to note that muscle stiffness can also stem from arthritis or other physical problems.
Communication issues may arise, as Parkinson’s disease affects the volume, tone, rhythm and/or rate of speech. Some people speak more slowly, or with a breathy or hoarse quality to their voice, while a few will talk rapidly, even stammering or stuttering in a pattern known as “tachyphemia.”
What treatments are available for Parkinson’s disease?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for Parkinson’s, but symptoms can be managed with medicines that help bring tremors and general movement under better control.
Several types of therapy are also available. Physiotherapy can relieve some of the rigidity and discomfort of tense muscles. Physiotherapists will also support the patient by providing advice and educating them about the condition.
Meanwhile, speech and language therapists can support all aspects of communication, helping to increase loudness, improve clarity of speech and increase melody or inflection over the sentence. They also focus on non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions and body language.
Eating healthy food, getting enough rest and taking regular exercise are also good practices for someone living with Parkinson’s disease.