- Parkinson’s disease is commonly associated with just tremors, but there are non-motor symptoms
- Differential diagnosis is important, as associated symptoms can show up for a variety of reasons other than Parkinson’s
- Parkinson’s disease does not have a cure, but there are interventions to assist with living situations
This edition of Aged Care Guide will look at the misconceptions, symptoms, treatments and support available for people living with Parkinson’s disease, or those caring for someone with the condition.
Parkinson’s disease affects movement and is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, which means that — not only will it be lifelong and without a cure — it will continue to get worse throughout the life of someone with it. This means a person with the condition may be unable to work, drive, prepare food or perform many of the tasks which they could previously excel at.
If you or someone you know is caring for someone living with Parkinson’s disease, it is important that you understand the frustrations and prognosis of someone with this condition and try to be patient, as you assist them.
Misconceptions about Parkinson’s disease
When can symptoms show up?
Parkinson’s disease is all over the media right now as yet another celebrity — Curb Your Enthusiasm actor Richard Lewis — has revealed their diagnosis. Previously, the show had poked fun at Back to the Future actor and Parkinson’s disease activist Michael J Fox, with a plotline involving his tremors and rigid or involuntary movements inciting a feud in an episode.
Lewis was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 75, but Michael J Fox was diagnosed with the condition at just 29. This has led many to assume that the disorder, which is lifelong and can be debilitating, can impact anyone at any age.
A diagnosis of Parkinson’s in a person under the age of 50 is considered early-onset, which is rather rare and makes up one in five cases, with one in 100 people over the age of 60 receiving a diagnosis in Australia.
What Parkinson’s disease is:
Movement is carried out in the brain through dopamine (the ‘reward’ chemical) which signals how we move, act and react to encourage the best possible outcome. In people with the condition, the parts of their brain that create dopamine start to die out, meaning that, among issues with mood, sleep and digestion — the body doesn’t know how to move, despite the person themselves knowing how they wish to move.
What Parkinson’s disease is not:
Parkinson’s disease is more than just a tremor or a jittery hand, which can also be the result of:
- Drug or alcohol withdrawal for people with an addiction
- Huntington’s disease
- Essential tremor disorder
- Traumatic brain injury
- Anxiety or trauma response
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Overstimulation (ie. too much caffeine)
Parkinson’s disease is not a disability that prevents movement, but a disability of coordinating movement, meaning that a healthy and active lifestyle can be beneficial for those with the condition.
Treatments and support available for people with Parkinson’s disease
Along with studies which highlight the need for sustained and consistent exercise/movement to assist people with balance, studies also suggest that regular exercise and movement can ultimately stave off the progression of symptoms.
Medications for treating Parkinson’s disease act to either mimic dopamine (dopamine agonists) or promote concentrations of dopamine in the brain. Certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine have been shown to impact both serotonin and dopamine activity.
Similarly, deep brain stimulation (DBS) is common practice for treating abnormal movement associated with Parkinson’s disease, for people resistant to medication, through a form of intervention like a pacemaker. Instead, electrodes are inserted into the brain and connected to a device placed under the chest, with electric triggers corresponding to movement.
Support options for Parkinson’s disease include: