Parkinson’s disease is a medical condition which causes parts of the brain to become progressively damaged over many years. According to the NHS, around one in 500 people are affected by the condition, which means that there are an estimated 127,00 people in the UK who have Parkinson’s disease.
Although most common in people aged over 50, around one in 20 people with condition will experience symptoms before they hit 40. Parkinson’s is also more common in men than women.
You may have seen our in-depth guide to the medical conditions which affect older people. Today’s article focuses on Parkinson’s disease, as we look at the symptoms, treatments and possible causes of the condition.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive neurological condition which affects the bodies’ nervous system. Once diagnosed with the condition, your symptoms will continue to worsen over time.
The condition is triggered by a loss of nerve cells in the substantia nigra, which is a part of your brain. This results in a reduction of a chemical called dopamine in the brain. This chemical plays an important role in regulating the movement of the body. It is this problem that causes many of the known symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
As previously mentioned, the condition is triggered by a loss of dopamine. This is the chemical responsible for messages being sent to the part of the brain that co-ordinate movement. Once this cycle is hampered, the level of dopamine will fall slowly over many years – causing symptoms to further develop and new symptoms to appear.
Scientific research has shown that around one in every 20 cases of Parkinson’s disease may be inherited. According to Parkinson’s UK, there is some evidence that suggests environmental factors may cause dopamine-producing neurons to die. By environmental we mean the virus, bacteria, toxic chemicals and heavy metals around you.
There has been a particular theory that links the use of herbicides and pesticides to the development of the condition.
There are three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:
- Slow movement – Such as walking with short, shuffling steps and generally taking longer to do regular, everyday things.
- Stiff and inflexible muscles – Includes pain and muscle cramps and a fixed ‘mask-like’ facial expression.
- Involuntary shaking (Tremor) – Uncontrollable and involuntary shakes or trembles of your body. Tremors can occur when you are moving or, most commonly, when your body is relaxed – which is known as a resting tremor. Tremors often start in a person’s fingers before progressing up the arm.
These symptoms develop gradually and can be quite mild at first, although the severity can differ for each individual with the condition. The order in which a person develops these symptoms can differ, although it is unlikely that a person with Parkinson’s disease will experience all three.
Away from the main symptoms known to Parkinson’s disease, the condition also has a number of other physical and mental symptoms. Examples of the physical symptoms linked to the condition include:
- Balance problems.
- Nerve pain.
- Loss of your sense of smell.
- Urination problems.
- Dizziness and blurred vision.
- Excessive sweating.
Examples of mental symptoms which a person could encounter include:
- Mild cognitive impairment (slight memory loss).
If you believe that you have any of the symptoms mentioned in this article you should see your GP as soon as possible.
Your doctor will base a diagnosis on your symptoms, medical history and a detailed body examination. Unfortunately, no tests can conclusively show that you have Parkinson’s Disease. Actual confirmation can take a while as there are other medical conditions which share the symptoms.
Diagnosis is also difficult as in the early stages of the condition the symptoms are quite mild. If your doctor has any suspicions you will be referred to a neurologist, who specialises in the brain and nervous system, or a geriatrician, who specialises in problems affecting older people.
This specialist will ask you to perform a number of physical exercises so that they can assess any issues with movement. You may also be taken for an MRI or CT scan, which tells your specialist what the structure of your brain looks like.
Diagnosis is likely if you have two out of the three main symptoms of the condition. If your symptoms improve after taking a medication called levodopa, it’s more likely you have Parkinson’s disease.
As previously mentioned, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, there are some treatments available to try and relieve the pain of any symptoms people encounter.
These include a number of supportive therapies such as physiotherapy for your muscle stiffness and joint pain, occupational therapy to help with any difficulty in everyday life, speech and language therapy for people who have difficulty in swallowing and diet advice top help improve some the symptoms.
Dietary therapy is also an option. Although there is no need to follow a specific diet, some of the symptoms and side effects from your medication can affect your appetite. Certain foods can also prevent your medication from working correctly. A dietitian will work with you in order to help with the following issues:
- Swallowing problems.
- Choosing the correct diet.
- Problems with buying and preparing food.
- Choosing nutritious foods with vitamins and minerals.
Another treatment for Parkinson’s involves medicine which can help to limit the effect of symptoms. The three main types of medication commonly used to help those with Parkinson’s disease are Levodopa, Monoamine Oxidase-B inhibitors and Dopamine Agonists.
It is important that you are able to learn and understand more about the medication that you are prescribed. Everyone with Parkinson’s is different so don’t assume your dose or timing should be the same as someone else with the condition. Speaking with your specialist and GP is the best way of ensuring you’re are taking the correct medication, in the correct way.
In very rare cases surgery may also be an option, for those people that have symptoms strong enough to beat medication. Deep Brain stimulation involves the surgeons implanting a pulse generator into your chest wall. This is connected to one or two fine wires placed under the skin, and is inserted precisely into specific areas in your brain. A tiny electric current is produced by the pulse generator, which runs through the wire and stimulates the part of your brain affected by Parkinson’s disease.
Living with Parkinson’s Disease
Being diagnosed with a condition like Parkinson’s is a life-changing event. You will require long-term treatment in order to control your symptoms and over time you will need to adapt the way that you complete every day tasks.
Of course one of the biggest impacts will be on your social and family life. Dealing with the deterioration of symptoms, such as increasing difficulty with movement, may make you feel frustrated and depressed. These feelings can also be passed on to your family and carers. The NHS advise that you are open about how you feel and that you need to let your friends and family know what they can do to help you.
It is important to know that there are support groups out there for people with Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s UK have a wide range of support services available, both online, at home and in your local area. You can find out more by visiting their support page.
One of the first things that you need to do after being diagnosed is to inform the DVLA and your insurance company. You won’t necessarily have to stop driving. You’ll be asked to complete a form providing more information about your condition, as well as details of your doctors and specialists. A decision will then be made on whether you’re fit to drive or not.
Work will also be on your mind after being diagnosed. Many people with Parkinson’s are able to continue working for a long time after diagnosis, although there are some changes that may need to be made depending on the severity of your symptoms. When it comes to your job, here are things to remember:
- Your employer has a duty to offer support and make reasonable changes.
- You need to inform your employer about your condition if there is a health and safety risk due to your symptoms.
- The Equality Act 2010 and Disability Discrimination Act 2006. Both of these explain that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you because of your disability or because of something that happens as a consequence of your disability.
Outside of work and your home, it is important for you to taking part in regular exercise. This helps to relieve muscle stiffness, improve your mood and relieve stress. There are various hobbies for you to pick up that can help you to remain active.
Parkinson’s Disease is a condition which will allow you to qualify for VAT Exemption when you order a personal alarm system from Lifeline24. HMRC state that a product which has been “designed or adapted for a disability” qualifies for VAT exemption.
For a person to qualify they must meet certain criteria set by HMRC. These criteria state that the customer must have a long-term illness, a terminal illness or a disability to qualify.
Staying safe at home
A personal alarm can help protect people if they suffer from a long-term medical condition. If one of our alarm users feels unwell, or suffers a fall, he or she can press their pendant button and help will be arranged immediately.
For more information on purchasing one of our life-saving personal alarms, please speak to one of our friendly advisors on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our contact us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Remember to use the discount code BLOG2017 when you order one of our personal alarm systems on a Monthly or Annual Plan to receive £10 off.