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Parkinson disease is a movement disorder that can cause your muscles to tighten and become rigid, making it difficult to walk and engage in daily activities. People with Parkinson’s disease also experience tremors and may ultimately develop cognitive problems, including memory loss and dementia.
Parkinson disease is most common in people who are older than 50; the average age at which it occurs is 60. But some younger people may also get Parkinson disease. When it affects someone younger than age 50, it's called early-onset Parkinson disease. You may be more likely to develop early-onset Parkinson disease if someone in your family has it. The older you are, the greater your risk of developing Parkinson disease. It's also much more common in men than in women.
Parkinson disease is a chronic and progressive disease. That means that it's a disease that doesn't go away and continues to get worse over time.
Parkinson disease arises from decreased dopamine production in the brain. The absence of dopamine makes it hard for the brain to coordinate muscle movements. Low dopamine also contributes to mood and cognitive disturbances later in the course of the disease. Experts don't know what triggers the development of Parkinson disease most of the time. Early onset Parkinson disease is often inherited and is the result of certain gene mutations.
Parkinson disease symptoms usually start out mild, and then progressively get much worse. The first signs are often so subtle that many people may not seek medical attention initially. These are common symptoms of Parkinson disease:
Eventually, Parkinson disease symptoms get worse and include:
Parkinson disease can be difficult to diagnose, as there isn't one single test that can identify it. It can be easily mistaken for another health condition. A health care provider will usually take a medical history, including a family history to find out if someone else has Parkinson's disease, and do a neurological exam. Sometimes, an MRI or CT scan of the brain can identify other problems or rule out other diseases.
Parkinson disease can't be cured. But there are different therapies that can help control symptoms. Many of the medications used to treat Parkinson disease help to offset the loss of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Most of these drugs do help to manage symptoms quite successfully.
A procedure called deep brain stimulation may also be used to treat Parkinson disease. It sends electrical impulses into the brain to help control tremors and twitching movements. Some people may need surgery to manage Parkinson disease symptoms. Surgery may involve destroying small areas of brain tissue responsible for the symptoms. However, these surgeries are rarely done since deep brain stimulation is now available.
Initially, Parkinson disease causes physical symptoms. Problems with cognitive function, including forgetfulness and difficulty with concentration, may arise later. As the disease gets worse with time, many people develop dementia, which causes profound memory loss and makes it difficult to maintain relationships with others.
Parkinson disease dementia can cause problems with:
If you have Parkinson disease and dementia, eventually you probably won't be able to live by yourself. Dementia affects your ability to care of yourself, even if your Parkinson disease allows you to physically perform daily tasks.
Experts don't understand how or why dementia often occurs with Parkinson disease. It’s clear, though, that dementia and problems with cognitive function are linked to changes in the brain that cause problems with movement. As with Parkinson disease, dementia occurs when nerve cells degenerate, leading to chemical changes in the brain. Parkinson disease dementia may be treated with medications also used to treat Alzheimer's disease, another type of dementia.
Experts don't yet understand how to prevent Parkinson disease. In some instances, there seems to be a genetic predisposition to develop Parkinson disease, but this isn’t always the case. Research is underway to find new ways to treat and prevent the disease.
These measures can help you live well with Parkinson disease:
Call your health care provider if you or your loved one notices a sudden or significant change in symptoms or if mood changes, increased symptoms of depression or feelings of suicide develop.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.