Parkinson’s disease is a serious, life altering condition that disrupts the flow of communication between the brain and the muscles. Approximately 4 million people around the world suffer from this disorder characterized by muscle spasms, tremors or body shakes. While treatments exist to help with the symptoms, there is no cure. Researchers hope as they learn more about how it starts, they will get closer to eradicating it.
Nerve cells use a brain chemical known as dopamine. It helps control muscle movement. Parkinson’s disease occurs when the nerve cells in the brain that make dopamine are slowly destroyed. When there is no dopamine, the nerve cells of the brain can’t send messages properly so it leads to problems in muscle function.
Forgetfulness Not The Only Troublesome Symptom
In the early stages of Parkinson’s people display some subtle symptoms. These symptoms progress over time and become noticeable to family and friends. One of the most common occurrences is what is referred to as “resting tremor”. This is a slight shaking of the hand when the hand is at rest. When the hand moves to pick something up, the shaking seems to stop. Muscle stiffness and balance issues are also very common. In some cases, the Parkinson’s sufferer slurs his or her speech, is tired all the time, and has difficulty with hand writing.
In the early stages of Parkinson’s a lot of people do complain about forgetfulness, but physicians say it is the stress, fatigue and depression associated with the illness that is likely causing the forgetfulness and not the actual disease. Doctors do point out that forgetfulness should not be ignored because it could be a sign of another illness such as dementia.
The exact cause of the disease is unknown; however the brain is central to the research that has been conducted over the years. Scientists have come up with a number of factors that could be playing a role in Parkinson’s. Genetic mutations, environmental triggers, a lack of dopamine in the brain, nerve ending damage, and protein clumps are the most popular theories.
Treatment and Progression of the Disease
The rate of disease progression can vary from person to person and therefore treatment varies. Some people start off with symptoms on just one side of their body. The disease slowly progresses to both sides, leads to balance and muscle impairment and then to more severe disability. In severe or late-stage Parkinson’s people can be confined to a wheelchair or be bed ridden. By this point the symptom of forgetfulness does come into play. Some researcher believe that part of the reason is that the patients brain has been less active due to a lack of social interaction as the disease has progressed. Other scientists suspect it goes much deeper than that. In the late 90’s, European researchers concluded that Parkinson’s patients with moderate to severe symptoms were impaired in learning and retaining information; that forgetfulness was definitely a big factor.
Deciding When to Start Treatment
When symptoms are mild, treatment may not be required. Decisions about when to start treatment, what types of treatment to try, and when to adjust treatment can often depend on your work and lifestyle. A doctor may recommend drug treatment along with other forms of treatment such as exercise, occupational therapy or physical therapy. The treatment received should address the disease and help a person maintain their strength and mobility. One of the biggest problems that Parkinson’s patients have is side effects from treatment. Close monitoring by their doctors is always important.
Parkinson’s disease is a complicated illness with a long list of symptoms and treatment options. A great deal of brain research continues, specifically to seek answers to the mystery surrounding Parkinson’s. Actor Michael J. Fox has helped push the disease into the spotlight in recent years. The Canadian born, American based Actor suffers from the disease and set up his own foundation in hopes of finding a cure for the disease.