As with all dementia illnesses an early diagnosis is imperative as it gives access to the correct treatment that will reduce the symptoms and can slow the progress of the disease.
Symptoms and treatment of Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system and is usually known for its movement-related symptoms: tremors, shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement and difficulty with walking. However, it’s also a lesser known cause of dementia – usually in the advanced stages of the disease.
Motor symptoms include tremor, rigidity, slowness of movement and a stooped posture which can lead to frequent falls and fractures.
Other symptoms include skin tingling and numbness, daytime drowsiness, disturbed sleep, constipation, incontinence and vision problems.
Except in around 5% of cases where the disease is caused by a genetic mutation, there is no established medical cause for Parkinson’s disease.
However, there is some evidence that it can be caused by certain kinds of pesticides, and smoking may be another risk factor.
The actual symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are caused by the death of dopamine-generating cells in a part of the midbrain but the cause of this cell death is unknown. Lewy bodies – tiny protein deposits in the brain – are also associated with Parkinson’s disease. Lewy bodies have a role in another cause of dementia – ‘dementia with Lewy bodies’.
The disease is difficult to diagnose in its early stages and in many cases, people who do not show the classic ‘tremor’ symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can go undiagnosed for years while the disease slowly gets worse.
Today physicians diagnose Parkinson’s disease from the patient’s medical history and a neurological examination, while brain scans may be used to rule out other disorders.
Diagnosis is usually confirmed by the use of levodopa, the most widely used treatment – if it reduces the symptoms, the patient can be assumed to have Parkinson’s disease.
A positive diagnosis will open the door to support services geared to Parkinson’s disease sufferers and their carers – and allow the individual and their family to plan for the future.
Treatment is aimed at slowing down the progress of the disease – it still cannot be cured.
The early motor symptoms can be managed with drugs – levodopa being the most common. A special diet, physical exercise, physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy can also be helpful.
However, levodopa use eventually causes a complication called dyskinesia, marked by involuntary writhing movements. This can in turn be treated with another drug but again there are unpleasant side effects including confusion and hallucinations.
As a last resort surgery and placing a ‘brain pacemaker’ in the brain can reduce ‘tremoring’.
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