Parkinson’s disease overview
Parkinson’s disease is a long-term and progressive brain disorder that most commonly affects those over the age of 60. People with Parkinson’s disease have difficulty controlling their body movements, and symptoms become worse as the condition progresses. Ultimately, Parkinson’s disease impairs the patient’s ability to function in daily life situations.
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease result from a loss of nerve cells in the brain that affect movement control, as well as other areas, such as mood, sleep and thought. The exact cause of the nerve cell loss is not known, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental and ageing factors.
Classic symptoms of Parkinson’s disease – so-called ‘motor’ (movement-related) symptoms – include tremor, slowness of movement, muscle stiffness, and balance problems. In addition, non-motor symptoms are also common, for example, depression, dementia, pain, sleep problems and dysfunction in the body’s autonomic systems (digestion, blood pressure, etc.). All of these add considerably to the disease burden.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder and, over time, new symptoms appear and existing symptoms slowly become more severe. However, it is not a terminal illness – people can live for some 15 to 25 years from the point of diagnosis – which makes it a long-term (chronic) condition.
Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common neurological (nerve cell) disorders. It affected approximately 5.2 million men and women worldwide in 2004, with 4 to 20 new cases reported per 100,000 people per year.
Parkinson’s disease usually develops in people in their late 50s and early 60s, though rarer forms of the disease can develop before the age of 40. One study of five European countries found that 1.6% of the population aged 65 or over had Parkinson’s disease.
Because the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease increases with age, the fact that more people are now living into old age means that the overall number of people with Parkinson’s disease is also rising.
Seeking diagnosis and care
At present, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but once a diagnosis has been made by a medical professional, symptoms can be treated effectively in most cases. The aim of treatment is to control and relieve symptoms, so that people can continue to function and enjoy a reasonable quality of life for as long as possible.
Treatment for Parkinson’s disease normally involves drug therapy and, in some cases, surgery. In addition to this, physical exercise, diet, complementary therapies, emotional support and strong relationships all play important roles. Understanding Parkinson’s disease, relating to the new situation in life, and learning to accept new goals and challenges, are almost as important as practical management of the disease.
A person with Parkinson’s disease should not be afraid to ask for help, and it is important to receive expert medical advice.
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