What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive, currently incurable disease that affects the Nervous System. Special cells within the brain, on the Substantia Nigra are responsible for producing neurotransmitters such as dopamine. In Parkinson’s Disease these cells, for unknown reasons, start to die off. This reduction in neurotransmitters in the brain results in a wide variety of symptoms in the sufferer. Common motor symptoms are tremor, trouble walking, fatigue, bradykinesia (slowness) and pain. Because Dopamine is also responsible for regulating mood, and seemingly plays a role in the rewards center of the brain, Parkinson’s disease also commonly causes mood disorders, anxiety, depression, apathy, brain fog, thinking problems and other non-motor symptoms. There is currently no definitive test for Parkinson’s. Instead, diagnosis is made initially by clinical observations performed by specially trained Neurologists called Movement Disorder Specialists (MDS). Because of this, Parkinson’s Disease, which starts affecting the sufferer very gradually, can often take a very long time to diagnose. This is particularly true in Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease (YOPD). After an initial diagnosis, the patient is often prescribed Carbidopa-Levodopa to see how he/she responds. If the drug is effective at reducing the patients symptoms, diagnosis is all but confirmed.
What is Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease (YOPD)?
Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease (YOPD) is Parkinson’s diagnosed in anyone younger than 50. Having Parkinson’s at a young age presents different challenges than it does in the older crowd. YOPD patients often still need an income, and may be taking care of a family.
How is Parkinson’s Disease Treated?
Far, far better than it deserves, the free-loader. Ok seriously, there’s are a lot of ways to treat Parkinson’s Disease. Medications, exercise, healthy diet, and taking care of your mental health, all play a part of living will with Parkinson’s. I’ll say a few words on each.
There are many medications that are used to replace dopamine in the brain lost due to the disease. Despite having been around for a long time, Carbidopa-Levodopa (C/L) is still considered by many to be the gold standard in treatment for Parkinson’s. C/L or sometimes referred to as L-DOPA, acts by passing through the blood-brain barrier where it is converted into Dopamine by the body. Early-on in the disease it works very well so only small amounts are needed. As Parkinson’s progresses however, C/L’s therapeutic effect becomes shorter and shorter in duration. The effect for the patient is that they cycle frequently between being “on”, that is when the medications are working well, and “off” which is when the medications are not working so well. There are now many extended release variants of C/L that help to smooth the “on”, “off” cycle and provide a more even effect over time. These days there are many medications to treat Parkinson’s including drugs that act to make more efficient use of the dopamine that it already has, drugs that introduce synthetic dopamine into the brain (agonists) and many others. There are also many surgical procedures that can be done to treat Parkinson’s including Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). If you’ve read this far you may be interested in reading up more on various medication and surgical options to treat Parkinson’s in the additional resources at the bottom this page.
Regular exercise is very important as it is very effective at reducing Parkinson’s symptoms. For a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP), the wider the variety the better. Intense exercise seems particularly beneficial. Exercise seems to re-enforce neural pathways diminished by Parkinson’s and flood the brain with beneficial “feel-good” chemicals. It contributes to keeping the patients body fit, which simply helps the patient handle Parkinson’s better overall. Moreover, exercising can be done with fellow PwP. Done as a social event, exercise then can hep build and maintain relationships which is great for mental health generally. Finally, exercise has been shown in studies to slow progression of the disease. That would make it one of the ONLY treatments that is considered disease modifying.
Food is obviously such a big part of our lives and shouldn’t be overlooked when treating Parkinson’s. Eating well can contribute to feeling well which can be half the battle. Healthy eating contributes to having a strong healthy body which helps the PwP handle Parkinson’s better overall. There are many fascinating studies that try to identify what types of foods may either slow or speed up progression of the disease. Some foods can change the effectiveness of medications. Proteins, in particular can slow the absorption of L-Dopa in the brain. This can make timing medications and meals tricky.
Entire books can be written about taking care of one’s mental health. Having strong social connections, finding purpose, and learning to accept things as they are, all go a long way towards living well with Parkinson’s. However, the “sufferer” needs to be sure not to get so wrapped up in their own well-being that they neglect those around them. I wrote a post about that here.
What is with the “Parky Superman” moniker?
No, I’m not an egotistical narcissist. I’m well aware that I’m far from Super at most things. Read about the origins of that nickname here.
I’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Now what?
Welcome to the club! I’m not going to sugar coat this: Parkinson’s sucks! However, these days, there are SO many options for treating the disease. You may not feel like it now, but you will be fine. The first thing you need to do, if you don’t already have one is get yourself a good Movement Disorder Specialist (MDS). Like it or not, you will almost certainly need to take medication eventually, if you don’t already. You’re going to need to work very closely with your MDS to optimize your medication regimen.
The very next thing you’re going to want to do is START MOVING. You may not want to now. It may go against every instinct in your body to move more. But coupled with the medication therein lies your most powerful weapon against Parkinson’s. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Go for a walk. Do jumping jacks. Just. Move. Here is one great resource to help get you going:
Next, get plugged into the Parkinson’s community as much as possible. Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are great places to find and meet people like you. Ask questions and get to know some folks. Take your time as there’s no rush. Don’t hesitate to Contact Me.
As you work out your medication regimen, establish consistent workout habits, and build some social connections you might just find yourself feeling better. If you haven’t already, at this point it would be a good idea to incorporate healthy eating habits. There is much more information available on the web. A few sites are below.
Check out these additional resources for more information: