What Is Parkinson's Disease, and How Is It Treated?

Sunrise Senior Living  |  April 17, 2019
What Is Parkinson's Disease, and How Is It Treated?
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Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder affecting an estimated one million Americans. It’s a disease that doesn’t discriminate. Actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed at age 29. Boxing champion Muhammad Ali and country legend Johnny Cash had it, too. More people have PD than multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) combined.

April is National Parkinson’s Awareness Month. To bring awareness to this debilitating disease, we are taking a look at what PD is, its common symptoms, and how it’s currently treated.

What Is Parkinson’s Disease?

PD is a progressive neurological disorder affecting an individual’s coordination, speech, movement, and memory. It kills healthy brain cells called neurons. Men are twice as likely as women to develop Parkinson’s disease.

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, an average of 60,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Parkinson’s every year. Most people are diagnosed after the age of 60.

Since PD is a progressive disorder, symptoms worsen over time. While each person’s battle with the disease progresses differently, the most common symptoms and physical changes include the following:

  • Almost 80 percent of people with PD experience involuntary movement referred to as tremors. Tremors can occur in the hands, feet, head, jaw, or chin.
  • As muscles become stiff and rigid, motor skills are compromised. It can result in slower movement and a shuffled gait.
  • People often develop balance and mobility problems as the disease progresses.
  • Between 50 and 80 percent of people with PD will develop Parkinson’s dementia.
  • Anxiety and depression are also common among people with PD.

Can Parkinson’s Disease Be Treated?

While there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are steps people can take to manage current symptoms and potentially delay others.

  • Activity: Walking, swimming, and tai chi are low-impact exercises that help you stay fit. Physical activity is believed to play a vital role in delaying the progression of PD.
  • Healthy eating: As is true of managing most medical conditions, a healthy diet is important. Talk to your physician for more advice.
  • Strength training: Resistance bands and light weights can also aid in maintaining stamina and balance. Both help reduce falls.
  • Stretching: Because PD causes muscle rigidity, it’s important to make stretching and flexibility-focused exercise a priority from the day of diagnosis. Yoga, Pilates, and overall stretching may help your muscles move well longer.
  • Home safety audit: Take time to conduct a home safety audit or hire a physical or occupational therapist to do it for you. They can identify potential in-home fall risks and make recommendations for improving them.
  • Prescription medication: Though they won’t cure PD, there have been significant advances in developing medications to treat and manage symptoms in recent years. Levodopa and carbidopa (Sinemet) are among the most common.

If you or a senior loved one has Parkinson’s disease, the supportive environment of an assisted living community might help you live rich and meaningful days. Call Sunrise Senior Living at 888-434-4648 to learn more, and schedule a tour of a community near you.

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