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Information Connection: Parkinson's Disease

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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 weakness.

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 Parkinson's Disease.

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 are heated.

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 over time.

About the author: Cathy and her Doberman Trooper conduct research into all kinds of topics and produce articles like the one you see here. To contact Cathy, write to Get the facts from Cathy, and let the Cathy Factor give you an edge.

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