Living with Parkinson’s: It Takes a lot of Managing
Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder, a neurological condition that affects cells in the middle of the brain. The affected cells produce dopamine, a kind of chemical messenger. Dopamine signals the body to produce smooth, purposeful muscle activity. As the brain cells are destroyed, there is less and less dopamine available. Nerve cells begin to fire out of control, which causes the person with Parkinson’s to lose control of movement.
The most common signs are:
- Tremor in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
- Stiffness in the arms and legs
- Slow movement, or bradykinesia
- Problems with balance or gait
Nobody has identified a specific cause of Parkinson’s. But many researchers believe that some people are genetically more likely to develop Parkinson’s if they’ve been exposed to certain environmental toxins. Many Parkinson’s researchers is that we’re probably still a long way from a cure, but that it’s reasonable to expect that more effective treatments will be developed until a cure is found.
The average age at onset is 55, but Parkinson’s can actually occur at any age. Researchers have not identified a way to predict how Parkinson’s will affect each individual. Some people have mild cases and others have quite severe ones. But for almost everyone, the disease does generally, gradually get worse. There’s no known cure, but there are treatments. Most people take medication for Parkinson’s. When medications fail to provide symptom relief, there are surgical procedures that can be very successful.
Common Parkinson’s treatments
The most common drug for Parkinson’s is levodopa. It works best for bradykinesia (slow movement) and stiffness. Doctors often wait to prescribe levodopa until the symptoms become more pronounced, mainly because the drug doesn’t work for an unlimited period of time. It provides symptom relief, but it doesn’t stop cell damage.
Side effects of levodopa include nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, involuntary movements and restlessness. An uncommon side effect is confusion. Some of the side effects can be decreased by combining other medications with the levodopa.
Gradually, levodopa becomes effective for shorter time periods. Additionally, people who have been on the drug for an extended period of time may notice increased twitching, nodding and jerking. Many people have to work closely with their doctors to determine a balance between the benefits and the side effects.
There are other medications for Parkinson’s as well. Some are combined with levodopa to increase effectiveness or reduce side effects. Many of these drugs are effective about 30 percent of people. And many can cause such side effects as hallucinations, blurred vision, nausea and confusion.
Surgical treatment for Parkinson’s is sometimes possible when medications are no longer effective. One of the newest procedures is called deep brain stimulation. A neurosurgeon implants a pacemaker in the chest wall, and patients control their own tremors by touching a magnet.
Not all movement disorders are Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease is the most common of all movement disorders, but it’s important to know that not all movement disorders are Parkinson’s. Many people assume that’s what they have as soon as they notice a bit of shaking. If you’re noticing signs that seem like Parkinson’s, be sure to see your doctor. Prognosis and treatment differ depending upon the condition you have, so it’s important to get the right diagnosis.
Living your life with Parkinson’s
When you have Parkinson’s, your life is like one big management issue. How to manage your symptoms, how to manage your medication, how to keep going when depression hits, how to manage stress. What should you do to keep yourself in the best shape possible to manage your condition?
Find a way to relieve stress. Having Parkinson’s is stressful. Have stress relief become part of your daily routine. This can mean sitting quietly for a period of time every day, praying, doing some form of meditation, listening to soothing music, etc. When you practice some kind of stress reliever every day, you’ll be able to keep that calm feeling with you even when you’re doing something else.
Try to get exercise every day. This can strengthen your muscles and improve your balance. A physical therapist can help you develop a good exercise program for you.
Connect with others who have Parkinson’s. There are so many ups and downs when you have Parkinson’s. And so many different ways to deal with your medications, your side effects and your symptoms. If you’re part of a support group, you can learn from the experiences of others. And don’t forget that sharing your own experiences will help others in turn. Being part of a Parkinson’s group can also help you combat depression, which is not uncommon for Parkinson’s patients.
The National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke; The Parkinson’s Action Network; The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.