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What is Parkinson's disease?

What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson’s disease considered a “neurodegenerative” disease. It affects the basic building blocks of the nervous system, called the neurons. Neurons are specialized cells that transmit (send and receive) information to other nerve, muscle or gland cells, either chemically or electrically. Neurons do not generally reproduce or regenerate, so when they become damaged or die, they cannot be replaced.

Parkinson’s disease progresses slowly in most people. Symptoms may take years to develop and patients may live for years with the disease. In Parkinson’s disease, the brain stops producing a chemical called dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps to convey information from one neuron to another. As dopamine levels decline, the individual has less ability to control their movements, body and even their emotions. When 60 to 80 percent of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged, the individual begins to show symptoms of the disease.

In stage one, symptoms are mild and don’t usually interfere with daily activities. The individual may have tremors or other movement symptoms, usually on one side of the body only. Close friends and family may notice changes in posture, walking and facial expressions.

In stage two, symptoms start to worsen and include tremors, rigidity and other movement problems on both sides of the body. Difficulty walking and problems with posture may become obvious. The individual may still live alone, although activities of daily living may become more difficult to complete and take longer.

At stage three, new symptoms appear, including loss of balance and slow movement. Individuals are more inclined to fall. They may continue to live independently, but symptoms can interfere with ADLs such as dressing and eating.

Stage four Parkinson’s symptoms are severe and very limiting. The person may be able to stand without assistance, but walking with out an aid is unlikely. The individual needs help with ADLs and is typically unable to live alone.

Stage five is the most advanced and debilitating stage. Stiffness in the legs may make it impossible to stand or walk. At stage five, the individual usually needs a wheelchair or is bedridden. Around-the-clock care is required. Hallucinations and delusions may be seen.

Individuals may also experience “non-motor” symptoms, including depression, irritability, problems focusing, slow thinking, memory difficulties, dementia, sleep disorders, constipation, pain, fatigue, problems seeing or smelling, weight loss/gain, and difficulty with impulse control.

Like other neurodegenerative diseases, Parkinson’s is incurable. However, there are medications that can help regulate body movements. Some of these include Sinemet, Requip, and Miramex. “The goal of the medications is to increase movement in patients, as well to slow the disease as much as possible,” said Jessica Slone, APRN. Patients may also benefit from lifestyle modifications, such as getting more rest and increasing exercise.

King’s Daughters Neurology, physicians (photo, from left) Megan Rudinsky, D.O., Omar Elghawanmeh, M.D., Enawgaw Mehari, M.D., Tanya Warwick, M.D., and nurse practitioner Jessica Sloan are available to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease as well as other neurodegenerative disorders. For more information, please call the office at (606) 408-2820. Patients are seen by physician referral only.