Parkinson’s Disease

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a degenerative neurological disorder affecting voluntary physical movements. The disease causes a slow breakdown in the area of the brain that produces dopamine, a chemical that controls a wide range of muscular activity. As the neurons in this area deteriorate, so does the production of dopamine, resulting in a progressive loss of control of certain motor functions. Although not considered to be fetal, Parkinson’s both chronic and progressive. Left untreated, symptoms will increase in severity over time.

How common is Parkinson’s?

About 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year, with up to 1.5 million individuals affected at any one time. That’s more than the number of people suffering from Muscular Dystrophy and Multiple Sclerosis combined.

What is the cause of Parkinson’s?

There is still a lot research needed to understand Parkinson’s, but what doctors do know is that it is not contagious and it is not considered to be a directly inherited condition. Many researchers today believe that Parkinson’s may be caused by a combination of environmental toxins, genetics factors and a physical predisposition to the disease.

Who is at risk?

Neither men nor women are more likely to develop Parkinson’s, and the disease occurs across all social, economic and geographic boundaries. A more predictable risk factor in the onset of Parkinson’s is age. Although a small percentage of individuals develop symptoms before the age of 50, generally symptoms begin to develop well after middle age.

What is the progression of the disease?

The effects of Parkinson’s vary from person to person. Some people may remain in the early stages with few debilitating symptoms for many years, while in others the disease may progress very rapidly. Some patients with Parkinson’s may exhibit few symptoms over the entire course of the disease, while others may be severely disabled by a broad range of motor dysfunctions. There is no way to predict the effects of Parkinson’s on an individual. That is why it is important to work closely with a doctor to determine the best course of treatment for managing the disease.

Do you have Parkinson’s?

Anyone experiencing a recurrent tendency to have uncontrollable tremors, loss of balance, or trouble with walking, speaking or performing tasks requiring fine motor coordination should have a complete work-up by a certified neurologist. Even then, an accurate diagnosis of Parkinson’s may require a period of observation over time, since there are no definitive blood or laboratory tests currently available to diagnose the disease. However, such tests may rule out Parkinson’s by providing an alternate diagnosis.

What treatment options are available?

Although there is presently no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are several medications available to help alleviate its debilitating symptoms. The course of treatment for each individual is determined by his or her physician based on the severity of the symptoms. Treatment may include a combination of drugs to alleviate several symptoms. And because everyone reacts differently to drugs, it may take time to determine which medications are most effective for any given patient. In some cases, severe symptoms may be treated with surgery. Consult with a doctor to determine the best course of treatment.

In addition, there are several outside care options available for patients with advanced Parkinson’s, each offering a coordinated team of professionals that include skilled nurses, therapists, dieticians and social workers – all working with the patient’s doctor to ensure the highest level of care.

Most of these programs are available right in your neighborhood, and many accept Medicaid. They include:

Adult Day Health Care – Designed to give relief to the caregiver and an opportunity for loved ones to socialize in a medically supervised environment, adult day health care programs offer experienced professionals who are well-equipped to take care of daily rehabilitative needs including physical, occupational and speech therapies.

Long Term Home Health Care – These programs provide a complete team of health care professionals that come directly into the home to provide rehabilitative and supportive care in accordance with a treatment plan prescribed by a managing physician.

Short Term Rehabilitation – These facilities offer patients short term rehabilitation and teach them skills for coping with the often debilitating effects of Parkinson’s. These may include speech, physical and occupational therapy, as well as practice in the use of such ambulatory aids as canes and walkers.

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