Facts About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinsons Disease is a very common disease. It affects one in 500 people. Most people develop Parkinson’s between the ages of 50 – 80 years. Although it does affect some people in their 30,s and 40’s. But Parkinson’s primarily affects older people. In fact, Parkinson’s affects 1 in 60 people between the ages of 70 – 80 years.

Parkinsons seems to affect both men and women in equal proportions. And there do not seem to be any major factors as to why a person succumbs to Parkinsons. Lifestyle does not seem to be a contributory factor in Parkinsons.

However, Parkinsons does have a tendency to get worse as the years progress. Where one hand is affected both hands become affected. Walking then becomes affected. And the Parkinsons tremors become more prominent.

But, Parkinsons symptoms can be kept under control by adjusting the treatment the sufferer is having. And providing the sufferer sees a doctor at regular intervals then persistent problems do not develop for many years.

Parkinsons is not a fatal disease. In fact the cause of death amongst Parkinsons sufferers are those found in any person suffering from chest infections and general weakness. And the average age of death for a sufferer is 70 -75 years. The main cause of death for a Parkinsons is from an unrelated condition.

Parkinson’s disease is mainly caused by a loss of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that transmits messages across nerves when you make a movement.

Say you’re reaching forward with your arm to pick up a cup of coffee from your kitchen table. Your brain sends out messages to the basal ganglia in your brain. The basal ganglia co-ordinates the nerve messages to your muscles and tells your muscles to move in the correct order. So the movement is all co-ordinated. Your reach out and your fingers naturally clasp the cup of coffee. This is an every day situation and very normal. This all happens in a millisecond.

Now consider what happens when you have Parkinsons. What happens when you don’t have enough dopamine is that the messages in your brain can’t be transmitted into a way that the individual muscles can act upon. So what happens then? You know you want to make a movement forward to pick up the cup of coffee. But your muscles don’t respond to the message coming from your brain. And the movement that you’re trying to make isn’t co-ordinated.

However, sometimes the message does get through to your muscles and the Parkinsons sufferer can pick up the cup of coffee. While other times they can’t. The problem is co-ordinating all these messages at the correct time.

But, when you’re not making any movement, why do Parkinson’s sufferers have tremors?

Well, that’s because the basal ganglia are continually in action. They are forever in action. Even when you’re relaxed flat out on your sofa and you’re watching television. There are still messages being transmitted to your muscles. But the problem for a Parkinsons is that the right messages aren’t always getting through. And the wrong messages aren’t getting blocked. This means the muscles are contracting or becoming stiffer all the time.

This lack of dopamine is a major reason for problems with movement. And that’s why dopamine replacement helps so much. However damage to other parts of the brain may be responsible for other features of Parkinson’s Disease. These problems include depression, bladder control, memory problems and blood pressure.

So what causes a lack of dopamine?

Well, scientists are still researching. And they have many theories. These include:

  1. Is Parkinsons caused by a virus?
  2. Is Parkinsons inherited?
  3. Is Parkinsons due to old age?
  4. Are some people more prone to getting Parkinsons?

These are some of the theories that scientists are exploring and continue to research. Right now there is more money being poured into research than at any other time.

Parkinsons Disease and Movement

Parkinsons Disease affects a person’s ability to move. This inability to move is because the different muscle groups aren’t co-ordinating. And that’s because the part of the brain that regulates movement has abnormalities.

So what are the problems a Parkinsons sufferer will experience from their movement?

  1. Slowness of movement and rigidity

A Parkinson’s sufferer may be able to make a movement but the problem is they take far longer to complete the movement. The movement is a lot slower than it would normally take.

A typical scenario for this would be when a Parkinsons is walking. Their walking becomes slow. And sometimes they stop unable to move another step. They become rooted to the ground.

Another movement problem is when the muscles become too rigid. Now normally your muscles are always slightly contracted. This is known as muscle tone. However when a person has Parkinsons their muscles are far more rigid. This rigidity is often seen in the legs and the neck.

The combination of rigidity and slowness of movement account for the disturbance of of dexterity, gait and posture in a Parkinson’s sufferer.

  1. Problems with speaking

Because speaking requires muscle co-ordination there are often problems when talking. In severe cases of Parkinsons the speech becomes slurred and it’s difficult to understand. However this slurring does not happen in the majority of Parkinsons sufferers.

  1. Facial muscles

A Parkinson’s sufferer can also suffer from a deadpan face that shows no expression. And in severe cases there is an absence of frowning or smiling.

  1. Parkinson’s Posture

A typical Parkinson’s sufferer will stand with an increased forward stance. This gives them a stooped appearance. The head and chest are bent forward. The arms are bent at the elbows and the knees are slightly bent as well. The result of this new posture is that their centre of gravity has changed. And a Parkinson’s is more easily prone to falling over.

And when sitting a Parkinsons sits far more forward with their hands held close together in their lap.

  1. Parkinsons Gait

One thing many Parkinsons sufferers are prone to is falling over when getting out of a chair. That’s because they have a difficulty maintaining their balance after a sudden movement.

And even when they are standing the sufferer can find themselves rooted to the spot, unable to make a step. And the Parkinsons person has to literally force themselves to take that first step.

Once a parkinsons person is walking they walk in small steps, with the knees slightly bent and the arms forward and bent at the elbows. And it’s because of the small steps that the Parkinsons person is prone to fall because their feet catch and the person falls down forwards.

Another problem contributing to a fall is that a Parkinsons person also has a stooped appearance as their upper body is bent forward.

  1. Parkinson’s Tremor

Of course one of the giveaway signs that a person has Parkinson’s is the tremor. This is the involuntary shaking a person does. The tremor increases when the person is at rest and decreases when the person is busy. The parts of the body the tremor affects are the head, fingers and hands.

Can Vitamin D Help Parkinson’s?

Finnish researchers say that if you have low vitamin D levels this may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease later in life.

The Finnish study of 3,000 people which was published in Archives of Neurology, found that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D – also known as the sunshine vitamin – had a three-fold higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

Even though more research will need to be done vitamin D could help to protect the nerve cells which are gradually lost by people with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease affects the brain, which then leads to tremor and very slow movement symptoms.

Finnish 30-year study

The study from Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare calculated the vitamin D levels from the study group – the levels were measured between 1978 and 1980, by using blood samples.

This study was carried out in Finland, in an area with limited sunlight exposure, and is based on a population where the people have a low vitamin D levels.

Then they followed the study group over 30 years to see if they developed Parkinson’s disease. 50 of the study group participants had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

The study found that the people in the study group who had the lowest levels of vitamin D were three times more prone to developing Parkinson’s disease, then the study group with higher levels of vitamin D.

Vitamin D can be made by the body, but only when the skin is uncovered to the sunlight. There are some foods that also contain vitamin D like oily fish, milk and some cereals.

But as we age, our skin becomes less able to make vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating the immune system and is also very important for the nervous system.

Marian Evatt, the assistant professor of neurology at the Emory University School of Medicine, thinks that health authorities ought to consider raising the levels of vitamin D.

30 nanograms per millilitre of blood, seems to be optimal for bone health in human beings.

But researchers don’t know what the optimal level is for brain health. They also don’t know at what point vitamin D , if at all could become toxic for human beings. This is why vitamin D needs even more studies.

The Finish study does provide clues about certain environmental factors that could influence or protect people against the development of Parkinson disease.

A good balanced healthy diet could provide people with the recommended levels of vitamin D. And if you live in an area where there is hardly any sunshine then it might be worth taking a dietary supplement to increase your vitamin D levels.

Parkinsons and the Caregiver

When somebody has Parkinsons then that person is going to need help. And the person who looks after them is usually referred to as a caregiver.

A caregiver can be a partner, family member, a friend or a neighbour.

But before taking on the serious role of a caregiver what should you consider?

Well, first of all your own health needs to be very good. Being a caregiver can be ob. You may have to manhandle the Parkinsons sufferer a physical job. You may need to lift them in and out chairs or the bath. Even pick them up after they’ve had a fall. So if you’re not physically strong you may not be up to the task of being a caregiver.

You’ll also need to be patient. Parkinsons sufferers move slowly and they need extra time to do what they’re trying to do the simplest of tasks.

Also being familiar with Parkinson’s symptoms. That’s because Parkinson’s symptoms don’t stay the same. They change. So you’ll need to be able to recognize the change in Parkinson’s as the patients move from one stage of the disease to another.

You’ll need to find out as much about Parkinsons disease as possible. This will enable you to understand and anticipate the condition of the patient that you’re caring for and the challenges they are facing.

One of the major concerns about becoming a caregiver is to take good care of yourself. You’ll need to avoid becoming burnt out. That’s because looking after a Parkinson’s sufferer is time consuming, emotionally demanding and physically draining.

To avoid burn you should:

  1. Make time for yourself every day.
  2. Help the sufferer remain as independent as possible.
  3. Perhaps attend a support group. Look for a local group or an online group.
  4. Get as much rest and sleep as possible.
  5. Make sure you take time to do at least one hobby a week.
  6. Have a support team around you so they can step in and give you a break when needed.