Parkinson’s Disease

The name Parkinson’s Disease comes from the first man to ever record findings of the disease in an essay by a British physician named Dr. James Parkinson, who published his observations in the year 1817. Although the causes and function of the disease were not identified until 1964, there have been several accounts of Parkinson’s Disease dating back to the early 1800’s.

Parkinson’s, formerly known as paralysis agistians, is a debilitating disease that affects the body’s ability to form a substance called dopamine, which is produced in the brain. Dopamine’s chief purpose is to help the muscles to relax, so when there is an acute deficiency – as with Parkinson’s disease – the muscles of the body contract often and rigidly.

Impairment of Motor Functions

Primarily, Parkinson’s disease affects the motor abilities of the body while having a much more minimal affect on emotions, behavior, thought processes and sensory perception. The severity and extent of the symptoms varies among individuals, though motor skills are always affected to some extent or another.

A patient with newly developed Parkinson’s Disease will begin to notice increased muscle rigidity and possible a slight tremor. Tremors occur most often when the patient is at rest – sleeping or sitting down. Approximately 70% of Parkinson’s patients do not experience tremors at all, but their muscular rigidity will be much more severe.

Along with the stiffness of the muscles in the body, there is likely to be a swift increase in muscle tone because of consistent flexing and relaxing. When a third party – such as a family member of physician – tries to move the arms or the legs, they should be able to feel a “touch-and-go” stiffness that prevents the limb from moving smoothly from one point to another.

In advanced conditions, a patient may experience akinesia, which is an absence of movement. There is partial and full akinesia; in full akinesia, the patient will not be able to move any muscles in the body, while in partial akinesia, the patient will have control of certain muscles but not all. Sufferers of Parkinson’s might also be afflicted with a decreased equilibrium, and may be predisposed to falling or dizziness.

The motor functions affected by Parkinson’s can be many, or an individual patient might experience few to none of the secondary symptoms – that is, those other than rigidity of muscles. Patients might also begin to have trouble walking or moving at a normal pace. Many times, shuffling is common because patients are unable to lift their feet very high off the ground.

Other secondary symptoms include “freezing”, in which the patient must stop for several moments during a walk before he or she can begin again. This could be a sign of the onset of akinisea. Sufferers of Parkinson’s might also have trouble holding themselves erect; this lends itself to the popular understanding of Parkinson’s that involves “stooping” of the shoulders and neck.

It may become difficult to swallow and to form certain words. Most patients in late stages of Parkinson’s are on a restricted diet of soft foods. Drooling may occur because of an inability to swallow and as a result of loss of control of the throat muscles. More than 50% of Parkinson’s patients suffer from fatigue; sufferers often tire easily and must rest frequently throughout the day.

Non-Motor Symptoms

As I stated earlier in the article, approximately 50% of Parkinson’s sufferers will experience symptoms that have nothing to do with motor function. These symptoms are widely varied among patients, and can be mild to severe. It is advisable for patients with these types of symptoms to seek guidance from a trusted physician, as proper therapy can all but eliminate most of them.

Depression is one of the most common secondary symptoms, and although few result in dementia, more than 20% of cases involve severe depressive disorders. It is theorized that some cases are caused by a fear of the disease and a feeling of helplessness as the disease worsens.

Anxiety is another symptom that is commonly experienced, though panic attacks will usually fade within several weeks. It is more likely for a depressed Parkinson’s patient to develop anxiety or panic attacks, though they can be experienced as mutually exclusive incidences.

Because of the dangers of both depression and anxiety, it is important for Parkinson’s patients to remain positive about their condition. Taking a proactive role in researching and learning more about the disease will help some; working hard to retain muscle tone and flexibility will help others.

Cognitively, dementia is a very real issue for late-stage Parkinson’s sufferers, occurring in more than 30% of patients. In most cases, this is a gradual loss of cognitive reflexes, beginning with forgetfulness and slower thought processes. In some cases, Parkinson’s patients will revert to childlike behavior, which is a phenomenon not exclusive to Parkinson’s disease.

It is possible to develop Parkinson’s at any age, though the earliest recorded finding was an eleven-year-old boy. Most Parkinson’s patients are over the age of fifty, and the chances of developing the disease will increase with age. Parkinson’s is a disease most common to Europe and North America, though there have been cases reported all over the world.

Men have a greater chance of developing Parkinson’s than women, and Parkinson’s affects approximately 2% of the population annually.

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