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By Cathy Richey
Parkinson's Disease is a progressive nervous system disorder. That means it gets
worse as time goes on. This has chilling implications for both the victim and
the family. This disease affects
how a person moves. It even affects how people inflicted with it speak and write.
But you don't just wake up one day and find you've got Parkinson's. It
sneaks up on you. The symptoms develop
gradually. Often, the first-noticeable symptoms (the ones not brushed off as
caused by something else) start off with ever-so-slight tremors in the hand.
As the disease progresses, the Parkinson's victim becomes so weak that
others notice an unusual "droopy" posture. This isn't laziness, it's
People with Parkinson's Disease also experience stiffness and find they cannot
carry out movements as quickly as before. This unfortunate condition is called bradykinesia.
Parkinson's Disease belongs to a group of conditions called movement
disorders. The movement disorders describe a variety of abnormal body
movements that have a neurological basis, and include such conditions as
cerebral palsy, ataxia, and Tourette syndrome.
About one million adults in the USA are living with Parkinson's Disease; over 60,000 are diagnosed each year. The real figure is probably
much higher when taking into account those who go undetected. According to
the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, the economic toll of this disease in the
USA is $25 billion yearly, including direct and indirect costs. The average
annual medication costs for an American with Parkinson's Disease is between
$2,500 and $10,000.
In most cases, symptoms start to appear after the age of 50. However, in
about 4% to 5% of cases the individual is younger than 40 years. When signs
and symptoms develop in an individual aged between 21 and 40 years, it is
known as Young-onset Parkinson's Disease.
Having tremors and slow uncontrolled movements, the patient may have a
fixed, inexpressive face. This is because of poorer control over facial
muscle coordination and movement. It's not because the person has become stupid
or is a zombie.
A large number of patients with early Parkinson's Disease symptoms assume
their traits may be part of normal aging and do not seek medical help, so
gathering accurate statistics is probably impossible. There are several
conditions which have comparable signs and symptoms to Parkinson's, such as
drug-induced Parkinsonism, head trauma, encephalitis, stroke, Lewy body
dementia, corticobasal degeneration, multiple system atrophy, and
progressive supranuclear pasly.
Parkinson's also affects the patient's voice. A British mathematician
believes he created a cheap and easy to carry-out test using speech signal
processing algorithms to speed the diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease. Max
Little developed the algorithm at Oxford University, stating that
Parkinson's not only affects limb movement, but also how people speak.
Parkinson's also affects the patients' sense of smell. Although Parkinson's
is incurable, doctors today can influence the course of the disease if it is
detected early enough. That is, the destruction of the patient's brain cells can be
slowed down. This means a better quality of life for the patient for several
years. Scientists recently discovered that hyposmia, losing one's sense of
smell for no known cause, may be a starting point for the non-motor signs of
These factors may raise or lower the risk of developing Parkinson's:
- Circumin. An ingredient found in the spice turmeric, is effective in
preventing the clumping of a protein involved in Parkinson's Disease,
according to scientists from Michigan State University.
- Flavonoids. Adult males who regularly eat foods rich in flavonoids appear
to have a considerably lower risk of developing Parkinson's Disease,
compared to others who do not, researchers in the USA and UK reported in the
journal Neurology. Examples of these foods include berries, apples, some
vegetables, tea, and red wine. In this study, the protective effects come
from anthocyanins, a subclass of flavonoids.
- REM sleep disorder. People with REM (rapid eye movement) sleep behavior
disorder might have twice the risk of developing Parkinson's Disease and
mild cognitive impairment, compared to others without the disease.
- Reheated cooking oils. Aldehydes have been linked to Parkinson's,
Alzheimer's, and other neurodegenerative diseases, as well as some cancers.
It can be found in some oils, such as sunflower oil, when heated to a
certain temperature and then used again. Scientists at the University of
the Basque Country found that aldehydes remain in cooking oils after they
A patient with Parkinson's has abnormally low dopamine levels.
Dopamine-generating cells, also known as dopaminergic neurons (type of nerve
cells) in the substantia nigra part of the brain have died. The substantia nigra is located in the midbrain and plays an important role in movement,
reward, and addiction. Doctor's do not know why these cells die.
When the dopamine levels are too low, people find it difficult to get things
done mostly because they cannot control their movements. The dopamine levels progressively
drop in patients with the disease, so their symptoms become more severe.
Dopamine is involved in sending messages to the part of the brain that
controls our coordination and movement.
Although Parkinson's Disease may not be a direct cause of death, it is a
progressive disease (symptoms get more severe over time). Parkinson's is
a chronic disease and a long-term one. It is incurable.
James Parkinson (1755-1824) was an English apothecary surgeon, political
activist, paleontologist, and geologist. He wrote An Essay on the Shaking
Palsy in 1817. In his work, he is thought to be the first to describe
paralysis agitans (shaking palsy).
James Parkinson systematically describes six people with signs and symptoms
of this disease we know today as Parkinson's. They were not formally
examined, but he observed them often as they went on their daily walks, and
asked them to describe their symptoms to him. In his Essay, Parkinson
describes the characteristic resting tremors, diminished muscle strength,
paralysis, unusual posture and gait, and how this disease progresses