Parkinson’s disease may not be the most common problem we have to worry about as we get older – but we can’t afford to ignore it. Under the age of 50 it’s extremely rare but, by the age of 80, about 1 person in 50 is affected. But there’s good news, too. Firstly, that means that more than 95% of people will never be affected – and, if you are, there are exciting new medical treatments on the horizon. What’s more, there’s more help than ever available to help sufferers and their families to cope.
Parkinson’s disease – what is it?
Parkinson’s disease affects part of your brain, known as the substantia nigra. This part of your brain acts as a sort of ‘auto-pilot’, keeping your movements naturally smooth and controlled. In Parkinson’s disease, you lose a chemical in this part of the brain, called dopamine, which acts as the oil in your personal auto-pilot. That means your movements are affected.
Parkinson’s - what are the symptoms?
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease usually come on gradually, often over months or even years. It often affects one side of your body first. The most common early symptoms are:
- Slowing down of your movements (moving around becomes more of an effort, and it can get harder to start, stop or turn).
- Stiffness of your muscles, usually in your arms and legs.
- Trembling, most commonly in your hands and arms. It tends to be worse when you’re at rest, or anxious, and gets better when you move your hand or arm to do something.
Later symptoms include:
- Less facial expression (such as smiling or frowning).
- Problems with balance.
- Shuffling when you walk.
- Smaller, less fluid handwriting.
- Trouble swallowing.
- Problems with your waterworks.
- Problems with sleeping.
- Anxiety or feeling depressed.
Parkinson’s – what’s the treatment?
There are several tablets that can help a lot with your symptoms. There are three groups of medicines which are most commonly prescribed. These are:
- Levodopa-based medicines (common brand names are Sinemet® and Madopar®.
- Dopamine agonists (names include apomorphine and bromocriptine).
- Monoamine-oxidase-B (MAO-B) inhibitors (names include selegiline and rasagiline).
Over time, your medicine may need to be adjusted. But recent research suggests that getting treated early can slow down the progress of your disease.
Physiotherapy (to help with keeping you mobile), occupational therapy (for adjustments to help you get around and cope at home) or a speech therapist (to help with swallowing and speech) can all make a huge difference.
Caring for someone with Parkinson’s – how do I cope?
Every GP knows that looking after someone with a long-term condition can be exhausting. Fortunately, there’s more help than ever available – all you have to do is ask ... Don’t be shy about asking for help – you deserve it! To find out more, try the following:
- Parkinson’s UK.
- Your GP - ask about a full social services assessment, and a carer’s assessment. Getting some help in the house or some respite care so you can get out can make all the difference. Your GP can refer you, and can also arrange for a district nurse to visit regularly for any nursing needs.
- Social services - you can ask for a referral from your GP or you can approach the department directly. But don’t be scared to go back if your loved one’s condition changes. Social services will offer the help they think you need at the time. If your needs change, you can often get more.
Many hospitals now have specialist Parkinson’s nurses who can help you, as well as the patient. Ask at your next hospital appointment.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.