The Medical Minute: Parkinson's is a disabling disease among elderly

Mar 03, 2010 By Xuemei Huang

Parkinson's disease is a common neurological disorder in the elderly, and the number of affected people is expected to increase as the population ages over the next decades.

The most common primary symptoms of Parkinson's disease include shakes of the hands, arms, legs and jaw; stiffness of the limbs and trunk; slowness of movement; and impaired balance and coordination.

There also are many secondary symptoms of Parkinson's disease. These include speech changes, loss of facial expression, smaller, cramped handwriting, difficulty swallowing, drooling, fatigue and aching, sleep disturbances, constipation, depression, fear or anxiety, memory difficulties and slowed thinking, and sexual and urinary problems.

The symptoms vary from patient to patient, and not everyone is affected by all of them. The disease persists over a long period of time, and its symptoms generally grow worse over time if untreated. In some people, the disease progresses quickly; in others it does not. Why an individual develops Parkinson's disease remains unknown. The causes likely include both genetic and environmental factors.

Parkinson's disease occurs when a group of cells that produce a chemical called -- located in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra -- begin to malfunction and eventually die. Dopamine is a that transports signals to the parts of the brain that control movement.

The main stream of treatment for Parkinson's disease is to use medications that could enhance dopamine function in the brain. The most commonly used drugs to achieve this are levodopa (sold under the brand name Sinemet, Stalevo, and Parcopa) - a substance that is converted into dopamine in the brain; COMT (Catechol O-methyltransferase) inhibitors such as Comtan or Tasma - a substance that can make levodopa last longer; and dopamine agonists such as Mirapex or Requip - a group of medications that mimic dopamine functions in the brain. There are a number of other kinds of drugs that are also used in treating Parkinson’s disease.

The degree of success of each treatment varies among individuals, as does the length of time the treatment option remains effective. The side effects caused by Parkinson's medications also vary from patient to patient. Medication therapy should be closely guided and monitored by the patient’s neurologist, preferably one who specializes in treating Parkinson’s disease.

Surgery is an option for patients to explore after they have had experience with medications and are no longer satisfied with the results. In recent years a procedure called deep brain stimulation (DBS), a safer and more effective surgery, has replaced older lesion procedures. DBS also leaves open the possibility of other therapies, should they become available in the future. As with any surgical procedure, there are risks and side effects. A person should discuss surgery thoroughly with his or her neurologist before making any decision.

A neurologist can most effectively help a Parkinson’s patient if the neurologist and the patient have a good working relationship. Doctors can provide a wealth of information and suggestions for improving quality of life.

Treating , however, is not exclusively the doctor's job; there is much the individual can do to stay as well as possible for as long as possible. Regular exercise, being part of a support group, maintaining a healthy diet and wellbeing practice are some of the things you might consider. Other medical specialists such as physical, speech and occupational therapists can also help Parkinson's patients control their symptoms and make daily life easier.

Explore further: Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Addiction: Insights from Parkinson's disease

Feb 25, 2009

A new comprehensive review by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), McGill University and the University of Cambridge, England provides vital insights into the neurological basis of addiction by investigating ...

Recommended for you

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

10 hours ago

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

US orders farms to report pig virus infections

Apr 18, 2014

The U.S. government is starting a new program to help monitor and possibly control the spread of a virus that has killed millions of pigs since showing up in the country last year.

Foreigner dies of MERS in Saudi

Apr 18, 2014

A foreigner has died after she contracted MERS in the Saudi capital, the health ministry said on announced Friday, bringing the nationwide death toll to 73.

Vietnam battles fatal measles outbreak

Apr 18, 2014

Vietnam is scrambling to contain a deadly outbreak of measles that has killed more than 100 people, mostly young children, and infected thousands more this year, the government said Friday.

New clues on tissue scarring in scleroderma

Apr 18, 2014

A discovery by Northwestern Medicine scientists could lead to potential new treatments for breaking the cycle of tissue scarring in people with scleroderma.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.