Sun | Jun 13, 2021

The progression of Parkinson’s Disease

Published:Wednesday | April 28, 2021 | 12:17 AM

Some people view getting older as a badge of honour of a life well lived, some find it an underrated experience, finding joy watching the people in their lives grow and change and experience new things. Ageing can be a beautiful thing even as our bodies slow down. But for two per cent of people over the age of 65 worldwide, they won’t experience their golden years the same as they are afflicted by Parkinson’s Disease (PD).

According to Mayo Clinic, PD is a progressive disease of the nervous system that causes a tremor, muscular rigidity combined with slow and imprecise movement of the body. It is associated with degeneration of the basal ganglia of the brain and a deficiency of the neurotransmitter dopamine. The disease mostly affects people who are middle-aged and elderly people.

The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s may include:

Tremor – A tremor, or shaking, usually begins in a limb, often the hand or fingers.

Slowed movement – Over time, the ability to move may be slow, making simple tasks difficult and time-consuming.

Rigid muscles – Muscle stiffness can occur in any part of the body. Stiff muscles can limit range of motion and cause pain.

Impaired posture and balance.

Loss of automatic movements – Decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, or smiling.

Speech changes – Speech may be slurred or monotone.

Writing changes – It may become hard to write.

Research shows that the cause of the disease is unknown, but genetics cause about 10 to 15 per cent of known cases. The other percentile of cases are occasional or sporadic. One thing to note is that no two people have the same exact symptoms. The progression is different from one person to another due to the diversity of the disease. Some persons may experience tremors or slow in their movement while another only experience balance problems.

Although there is no cure, treatment options vary. Managing some of the symptoms, such as tremor, can be helped with medications. The medications prescribed can act as a substitute for dopamine and send a similar signal to the neurotransmitter in your brain. These medications can become less effective over time, but some patients realise significant improvement of their symptoms after starting treatment and continue to. Other treatments include movement therapy. For people with PD, exercise is more than healthy – it is a vital component to maintaining balance, mobility and activities of daily living. Exercise and physical activity can improve many symptoms like depression and dementia. Surgery is also a treatment option.

Depending on severity, life can look very different for a person coping with PD. While there is no one-size-fits-all treatment approach, lifestyle modifications can help manage the disease.

Parkinson’s not only affects the afflicted but the loved ones as well. Their top priority will be their loved one’s comfort, peace of mind and safety. But the caregivers can experience depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. Professionals suggest rest, personal space, therapy and support groups to take care of both parties.

April 11 was observed as World Parkinson’s Disease Day, but understanding PD may take lifetimes. According to the World Health Organization, 0.37 per cent of Jamaicans have died from the disease; though the mortality rate isn’t high, we can still seek to understand and detect early signs.

kerry-ann.hepburn@gleanerjm.com