An Introduction to Parkinson’s Disease

Receiving a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis can turn your world upside down. Many people have heard of Parkinson’s, but few understand it deeply, and this leads to a flood of emotions and questions about what lies ahead. In this episode of the Sage Aging Podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ginny Wolfe, a dedicated Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s educator. Ginny provided us with a solid overview of Parkinson’s disease and offered some great resources and insights too.

Hear the whole conversation here:

In case you are short on time, I’ll recap the highlights here.

What is Parkinson’s?

Among neurological disorders, Parkinson’s ranks second only to Alzheimer’s in prevalence. The disease is a neurodegenerative disorder affecting an estimated 6 to 10 million people worldwide. Experts expect this to increase in the coming years due to our aging population. In the United States alone, nearly 1 million people live with Parkinson’s, with 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

The loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain causes Parkinson’s disease. The loss of these cells leads to a decrease in dopamine levels (a neurotransmitter). Dopamine helps regulate movement and mood. While it generally affects those over the age of 60, younger individuals are not immune, and men are slightly more likely to develop Parkinson’s than women.

The Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

An elderly man with a beard, experiencing tremors as he attempts to eat soup with a spoon, a common challenge faced by individuals with Parkinson's disease. The focus is on the struggle with fine motor skills, illustrating the daily realities of living with Parkinson's.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can vary significantly from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Tremors: A rhythmic shaking, typically beginning in the hands.
  • Bradykinesia: A noticeable slowness in movement, with progressive difficulty in initiating movements.
  • Rigid Muscles/Stiffness: This stiffness can occur in any part of the body, limiting movement and causing pain.
  • Balance/Coordination Difficulties: These issues can lead to falls and other mobility challenges.
  • Loss of Automatic Movements: Including blinking and smiling.
  • Speech Changes: Speech may become softer, slurred, or hesitant.
  • Writing Changes: Handwriting may become cramped and difficult to maintain.

If you notice changes in yourself or a loved one, don’t ignore them. Talk to your doctor and explore the changes and their causes.

Living with Parkinson’s Disease

Being newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s is a life-changing event, but the good news is that with the proper care, one can live with Parkinson’s disease for 15-20 years. As a matter of fact, according to research, on average, people with Parkinson’s can expect to live almost as long as those who don’t have the disorder. Parkinson’s is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement, and it can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms typically start gradually and manifest in different ways for different people.

Is There a Cure for Parkinson’s?

While the search for a cure continues, managing Parkinson’s allows for a full and active life for many. From using medications like carbidopa and levodopa to deep brain stimulation, treatments are evolving. With continued research and clinical trials, there is hope for a cure in the future. Visit the Parkinson’s Foundation if you are interested in being a part of a clinical trial.

Embracing Community Support

Receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s can be overwhelming. But the good news is that navigating Parkinson’s doesn’t have to be a solo expedition. A Google search will reveal many support resources to help you learn more about Parkinson’s disease and connect you with others who are living with the disease. Here are links to the resources we mentioned in the podcast. All offer a wealth of information and resources, including support groups and educational materials.

Wrapping Up

I hope you will take 30 minutes to listen to my conversation about Parkinson’s with Ginny. I learned a lot and know you will too. The Sage Aging Podcast and having important conversations like these are a big part of our mission to connect families with the education and resources they need to navigate aging successfully. Let’s wrap up with a few FAQs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes Parkinson’s disease? A combination of genetic and environmental factors is believed to contribute, though the exact cause remains elusive.
  • Can Parkinson’s disease be cured? Currently, there is no cure, but ongoing research and treatment strategies offer hope and improved quality of life.
  • How does deep brain stimulation work for Parkinson’s patients? It involves placing electrodes in specific brain areas to regulate abnormal impulses, offering relief from some symptoms.
  • Are there lifestyle changes that can help manage Parkinson’s symptoms? Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and engaging in physical and speech therapy can significantly manage symptoms.
  • How important is community support for people with Parkinson’s? Invaluable. Community support provides emotional backing, practical advice, and a sense of belonging, easing the journey for those affected.

Disclaimer: The content on this site is meant for general informational purposes and should not be considered professional advice. While we strive for accuracy, we recommend consulting experts for specific guidance. We are not responsible for any decisions made based on this information.

Liz Craven
Liz Craven

Liz Craven, co-publisher of Sage Aging ElderCare Guide alongside her husband Wes, brings a blend of personal experience and heartfelt dedication to her work. Their path in eldercare started with a family story — caring for Wes' grandmother, Mabel, who faced Alzheimer's. This personal chapter not only highlighted the complexities of eldercare but also ignited their passion to support others in similar situations. Later, Liz and Wes filled the caregiver role three more times for their parents. Through the Sage Aging ElderCare Guide, Liz offers a mix of empathetic insight and practical advice, making eldercare more approachable and less daunting for families. Her commitment shines through in every piece of advice, aiming to ease the journey for others as they navigate the world of eldercare.

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