You may be surprised to know that Parkinson’s disease is quite common. It is estimated that about four people per 1,000 in Australia have the disease. This figure increases to one in 100 over the age of 60. The average age at which people are diagnosed with this disease is 65, although it can affect younger people too.
The good news is that, if you are affected by it, your GP and other health specialists, can help you to lead a normal life.
What is it?
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, neurological condition. Cells in the middle brain degenerate and this causes a lack of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. This natural chemical is necessary for controlled movement.
As well as affecting movement, the disease can also affect other functions such as smell or mood.
What are the symptoms?
The most obvious sign of Parkinson’s is a problem with movement. Typically, this is muscle stiffness, slowness of movement and not feeling stable. A tremor may also be present but not in all cases. Problems with sleep, depression, memory, or the gastrointestinal system may also be present.
How is Parkinson’s diagnosed?
There is no one test for diagnosing Parkinson’s. Your GP will refer you to a specialist such as a neurologist if they suspect you may have the disease and they will take a detailed history of your symptoms.
Do we know what causes it?
Researchers are working hard to understand what causes the disease but, at the moment, there are only theories. Possible causes or risks include genetic and environmental factors such as pesticides, toxins and chemicals as well as genetic factors and head trauma.
What are the stages of Parkinson’s?
Everyone is different so it’s impossible to say how Parkinson’s disease with all affect everyone. Typically, it develops very gradually, and it doesn’t cause people to die.
Are there any treatments?
While doctors can’t currently offer patients a cure, there are many treatments that can help someone with Parkinson’s to lead a normal life. These are based on managing symptoms. Medication is designed to maximise the availability of dopamine in the brain and other drugs may be combined with this to address other symptoms.
Evidence suggests regular exercise can improve some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.