Parkinson’s disease (PD) is caused by the degradation of dopaminergic (dopamine producing) cells in the brain that are primarily responsible for how we control our muscles. Because the disease leads to less of these cells, PD results in the loss of control of movement.
The four main physical symptoms include:
- Tremor: parts of the body may tremble uncontrollably
- Loss of balance
- Stiffness or inability to move at all
- Bradykinesia: abnormally slow movement
The cell degradation that occurs in PD is gradual, and senior citizens tend to be more at risk. People who experience advanced PD will often suffer from decreased overall functioning in life due to increased motor disability. As a result, some people also experience depression and emotional changes in addition to problems carrying out daily activities.
For senior citizens suffering from PD, appropriate care may be provided by in-home caregivers. These caregivers can aid in carrying out daily activities and ensuring proper administration of medicine.
Diagnosis and Treatment
PD is a disease of the brain which is hard to diagnose without the use of brain scans or strong evidence of motor loss and associated decrease in function.
PD is caused by the death of cells that produce dopamine and cannot regenerate. While PD cannot be cured, it can be treated by replacing the dopamine in the brain. Drug treatments that administer levodopa and carbidopa can replace the dopamine that is not produced as a result of cell death. Usually, only more severe symptoms of PD like rigidity can be relieved by dopamine replacement, unfortunately, these drugs are less effective for less severe symptoms like tremor. Other drugs used to treat PD include anticholinergics, bromocriptine, pramipexole, ropinirole, amantadine, and rasagiline which is also used with levodopa. Again, most of these drugs work by replacing dopamine in the brain that the sufferer can no longer produce.
Another form of therapy involves deep brain stimulation (DBS) that can relieve tremors, slow movement, and gait problems. This is often preferred to some drug therapy because there are no side effects of dyskinesias (involuntary movements). DBS stimulates the targeted brain regions with an electrode that is implanted.
Currently, much research is focused on treatment of PD because there is no known way to reverse the degradation that occurs. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is currently studying the progression of the disease, alternative drug therapies, more specific genetic and environmental causes of PD, and possible ways to prevent or reverse the disease.