Latest Parkinson’s Treatment Options

While Parkinson’s disease typically affects older adults, it can occur earlier in life as well. Striking approximately 1 percent of the population, the condition is slightly more common in men and usually begins to manifest between the ages of 50 and 65. The symptoms are caused by a gradual degeneration of nerve cells located in the region of the brain responsible for controlling movement. Medications can reduce the disabling effects of the illness by lessening some of the symptoms.

What Is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder of the nervous system that gradually develops and affects how sufferers move. While tremors are the most recognized symptom of the disease, it can also slow and stiffen a person’s movement. Although there is no cure, medications and surgery can improve patient outlook and reduce symptoms.

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What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

The basal ganglia, located in the brain, is a highly specialized region that helps regulate body movement. Its cells require a precise balance of the neurotransmitters dopamine and acetylcholine to communicate effectively. With Parkinson’s, cells begin to deteriorate and produce insufficient dopamine levels. This produces a chemical imbalance in your brain which leads to the symptoms we’ve come to associate with Parkinson’s disease. While research indicates that genetics play a predominate role in developing the disease, it may also be caused by a viral infection or exposure to environmental toxins, such as carbon monoxide and pesticides.

Signs and Symptoms

Parkinson’s disease affects each person differently; The severity and intensity of the symptoms people may face may vary as well. The first signs of the illness are usually barely noticeable and may include a stiffness or feeling of weakness in a limb or a slight tremor in one of your hands. Over time, the shaking will worsen and spread to other parts of your body where muscles become stiffer and overall movement slows down. As a result, balance and coordination rapidly deteriorate. You may also experience a loss of automatic movements, such as blinking or swinging your arms as you walk. Parkinson’s may also affect your ability to communicate, as it becomes more difficult to write or make subtle mouth movements, causing speech to become slurred or delivered in monotone.

Stages of Parkinson’s Disease

Because it’s a progressive degenerative disorder, the condition has defined stages of development based on the number and severity of symptoms. There is no specific test for diagnosing Parkinson’s disease, so diagnosis is typically based on your medical history along with physical and neurological examinations.

Stage one is the initial phase of the disorder. It is characterized by mild symptoms that generally do not interfere with daily activities. While changes in posture, walking and facial expressions may be noticeable, tremors and other movement issues typically occur on one side of the body.

During stage two, stiffness, tremors and other movement issues worsen as both side of the body are affected. Individuals with this stage of Parkinson’s can still live alone although some daily tasks and activities may become more difficult or take longer to accomplish.

Stage three is characterized by slowness of movement and a loss of balance. While an individual can still be fully independent, symptoms may significantly impair some daily activities, such as eating, bathing and dressing.

With the onset of stage four, the severity of symptoms begin limiting personal independence. Although the person may stand unassisted, movement may require the aid of a walker. Because you will need help with daily tasks, you cannot live alone.

The most advanced and disabling level, stage five is marked by leg stiffness that makes standing and walking impossible. Sufferers may use a wheelchair or become bedridden. At this stage, daily living requires around-the-clock nursing care. People suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease may also experience delusions or hallucinations.

In addition to using a rating scale system to determine the stage of disease progression, your physician will also evaluate your mental functioning, mood and social interaction. While symptoms may vary, knowing the stages can help you make plans to anticipate and cope with the changes as they occur.

Common Treatment Options

Unfortunately, there is no standard treatment protocol for Parkinson’s disease. Treatment options will be based on the stage and severity of each individual’s symptoms. Along with lifestyle modifications like eating healthier along with getting more rest and exercise, treatment may include medications or surgery. While current medications reduce the severity of symptoms and may slow the progression, they do not reverse the effects of the disease. People suffering from Parkinson’s often take a variety of medications in different doses. They may need assistance to manage their dosing schedule in order to receive the full benefit of the medications.

Surgical options include deep brain stimulation. A surgeon will implant electrodes into a specific part of the brain. The electrodes transmit electrical impulses from a generator implanted in the upper chest that stimulate the brain and reduce symptoms. This option is usually recommended for individuals with advanced Parkinson’s who have not benefited from medications.

Prognosis

Living with a chronic illness like Parkinson’s can be difficult. You will need to work closely with your doctor to find a treatment plan that offers you the greatest potential for relief with the fewest side effects. Lifestyle changes like healthy eating and regular exercise help strengthen muscles, increase flexibility and improve cognitive functions. You may also need physical therapy and assistance with a fall prevention program. Some types of alternative medicine, such a yoga, tai chi, and acupuncture can also reduce symptoms and make it easier to perform daily activities. Occupational therapy can provide new ways to help you perform tasks based on your current ability. You may also need to make modifications to your home.

As the disease progresses, you will need a support network. You may suffer frustration and depression as you can no longer perform daily living tasks and begin to lose your independence. A network of family, friends, and home health aides is essential. They can provide comfort and understanding. Maintaining your emotional health is just as important as staying physically fit. Counseling and support groups can provide tips on how to maintain your quality of life for as long as possible.

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