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2/27/2013Home Care News

Caregiver Support Groups: CA Parkinsons Support Group

   Moderated by Richard WeathermanAdvantage Plus Caregivers

Parkinson's disease
Parkinson's disease is a disorder of the brain that leads to shaking (tremors) and difficulty with walking, movement, and coordination.


Frequently Asked Questions

What causes Parkinson's?

Parkinson's disease is caused by a degeneration of the cells which produce dopamine in the substantia nigra area of the brain. It is not known why the cells are damaged or destroyed although there are many theories. It is possible that genetics and the environment work together to cause Parkinson's. Much more research is needed to completely understand how, why and when this disorder occurs. The symptoms of Parkinson's appear when over half of the dopamine-producing cells are lost.

Dopamine is a brain neurotransmitter which sends signals from one nerve cell to another. It affects the parts of the brain which control smooth, voluntary movements such as walking, writing, throwing a ball or buttoning a shirt.

Dopamine is also essential for involuntary movements including control of:
blood pressure and
bowel function

Loss of dopamine can also affect mood and thinking.

How is Parkinson's diagnosed?

There are no specific brain scans or laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis of Parkinson's. Neurologists diagnose it with a careful evaluation of a person's medical history and a physical examination. Tests may be done to rule out other conditions which may resemble Parkinson's.

Is there a cure?

At the present time there is no known cure, however many people live full, productive lives. With the treatment that is now available, life expectancy for someone with Parkinson's is fairly normal. Each year, more and improved treatments are being introduced.

Who develops Parkinson's? How prevalent is it?

Up to 10% of individuals with Parkinson's develop symptoms before the age of 40. This is known as Young Onset Parkinson's. Parkinson's is usually diagnosed between the ages of 55 and 65, with 60 being the average age of diagnosis. Parkinson's affects 1% of adults over the age of 65 and is slightly more common in men.
Is Parkinson's genetic? A genetic cause of Parkinson's appears in only a very small number of cases, approximately 5%. Where it may appear to run in families, researchers are looking at environmental factors shared by the family or community in addition to examining potential genetic links. The vast majority of cases of Parkinson's disease are from unknown causes.

Is Parkinson's contagious?

Parkinson's disease is not contagious. A person cannot "catch" Parkinson's and there is no need to worry about being in close contact with someone who has it.

What are the symptoms?

Most common motor symptoms are:
Resting tremor - repetitive shaking movements occurring in the arms and/or legs at rest. (Tremors are the first symptom to appear in about 70% of people with Parkinson's.)
Rigidity - increased stiffness in muscles and joints.
Bradykinesia - slowness of movement, including all actions such as walking and writing.
Lack of coordination - postural impairment or loss of balance.
Freezing - a temporary inability to initiate movement.
Other symptoms:
Hypomimia - reduced facial expression, making a person appear uninterested or sad when they are not.
Hypophonia - speaking in a very soft voice. This may involve deterioration in the rhythm and quality of the voice.
Micrographia - small, cramped handwriting.
Cognitive and mood changes, including:
Forgetfulness and confusion
Loss of impulse control
Dementia, hallucinations
Urinary problems

How does Parkinson's progress? What can be expected?

Early symptoms generally occur gradually, and progress more rapidly in some people than others. The tremor may begin to interfere with daily activities, and other symptoms may appear. Parkinson is progressive, meaning the symptoms may worsen over time, and the rate of this progression is different for each person. There is no way of knowing how slowly or quickly Parkinson's may progress.

Does Parkinson's affect mental health?

(Adapted from Mind, Mood and Memory, published by the National Parkinson Foundation)
Mental illness is a term used to describe a disruption in the balance between mind, body and spirit and a change in one's mental or emotional wellbeing. Psychological symptoms of Parkinson's are considered to be as important as the physical symptoms.
Some people feel there is a stigma associated with mental health issues and some may still feel that psychological symptoms are an example of personal weakness.

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