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Parkinson’s disease – Knowing the facts

Parkinson's disease is a chronic, degenerative condition affecting the central nervous system that results in decreased movement. This happens due to decreased production of the hormone, dopamine, in the brain which results in gradually decreased movements.

Parkinson's disease is a chronic, degenerative condition affecting the central nervous system that results in decreased movement. This happens due to decreased production of the hormone, dopamine, in the brain which results in gradually decreased movements. Parkinson’s disease belongs to the group of conditions known as motor system disorders. [1]

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include the following:

• Tremor or shaking that begins in a limb, usually the fingers or hands. The characteristic sign of Parkinson’s disease is if this tremor occurs when the patient is at rest. Also, the thumb and forefingers rub against each other, and this resembles counting of coins.

• There’s a reduced ability to move and movement slows down. Steps become shorter when walking and it becomes more difficult to get out of a chair. As one walks, dragging of the feet may occur. This is called a shuffling gait.

• Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body. This limits the affected individual’s range of motion and may cause pain.

• Posture can become stooped, or the patient’s balance can become affected.

• Automatic movements such as smiling or blinking may disappear.

• Slurred speech, hesitating to talk, speaking softly and being monotonous are changes that can occur.

• Writing can become difficult and may appear small. [2]

People who are at risk of developing Parkinson’s disease include those who are 60 years of age or older, having a strong family history of the condition, being male and constant exposure to toxins such as pesticides and herbicides. [3]

Complications associated with Parkinson's disease may include problems such as memory impairment (dementia), depression and emotional changes such as anxiety, fear and loss of motivation, difficulties with swallowing, drooling, sleeping problems, urinary incontinence, difficulty urinating and constipation. Other possible complications may also include feeling lightheaded or dizzy due to a sudden drop in blood pressure when standing up (orthostatic hypotension), impaired sense of smell, fatigue, generalized body pains and a decrease in sexual desire or performance. [4]

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Parkinson's disease. Pharmacological medications are available though that are effective in controlling the symptoms caused by this movement disorder. These include drugs such as the widely used combination of carbidopa and levodopa, dopamine agonists, anticholinergics and amantadine. [5]

Lifestyle changes, such as aerobic exercises including walking, gardening, swimming, water aerobics, dancing and stretching, can be suggested by healthcare professionals. The incorporation of physical therapy and exercise is very important to increase muscle strength and flexibility, as this helps to improve the affected patient’s balance and coordination. Exercise also helps to improve one’s well-being and reduce emotional changes such as anxiety and depression. A speech therapist is included to help improve any speech-related issues, and an occupation therapist shows the patient techniques regarding how to dress, eat, write and bathe which helps make daily life easier. [5]

Eating a healthy and well balanced diet helps to avoid complications of Parkinson’s disease such as constipation. A diet high in fibre and an adequate water intake helps to avoid such as issue. A diet high in omega-3, through fatty fish intake, is also beneficial for patients diagnosed with this movement disorder. [6]

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