This common neurological disease is growing in numbers – and it’s affecting younger people. In fact, 20% of people affected by Parkinson’s disease are of working age, according to Parkinson’s Australia (www.parkinsons.org.au).Parkinson’s disease belongs to a group of conditions called motor system disorders. It occurs when certain nerve cells, or neurons, die or become impaired. Normally, these neurons produce dopamine. Loss of dopamine causes the nerve cells to fire out of control, leaving patients unable to direct or control their movement in a normal manner.
One of the problems is that the disease can be difficult to recognise and diagnose, delaying treatment. And, over a lifetime, people with Parkinson’s disease experience greater disability than people with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and vascular disease.
Are you or a loved one affected by Parkinson’s disease? Then it’s important to know how the disease progresses over time:
- The first motor symptom is often shaky and jerky hands, followed by shakiness in the arms, legs and face.
- Slow movements often lead to a shuffling gait.
- Frozen facial muscles can lead to an emotionless mask-like expression.
- The patient later experiences increasing problems with balance, makes big swinging movements with his arms, legs and body, and struggles with movements such as turning over in bed.
- Due to a speech-articulation problem called dysarthria, the tongue and other muscles associated with speech become unco-ordinated. The patient struggles to form words properly and speak clearly. Speech becomes increasingly mumbling.
- Dysphagia – the patient struggles to swallow.
Delaying the disease
Research has found certain proactive steps can delay the progress of Parkinson’s disease.
- A healthy eating plan that includes at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and which limits saturated animal fats and trans fats (found in pies, store-bought biscuits and cakes).
- Exercising at least three times a week can improve motor function and protect remaining brain cells from fast decay. An insightful study at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio showed good results from tandem cycling. A single 40-minute tandem cycling session with a healthy partner in front can improve the motor function of a Parkinson’s sufferer by 35% and improve brain activity just as much as treatment with dopamine medication.
(Information source: Parkinson’s Australia Inc. Media Release. 12 Oct. 2011. One in every 350 Australians lives with Parkinson’s Disease.)