Parkinson's disease is a progressive and chronic nervous system disorder that affects movement and is caused by destroyed nerve cells in the brain. Although the progression of the disorder will vary from patient to patient, the development is often gradual, with symptoms sometimes going unnoticed for years. There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but symptoms can be treated, and in some cases improved, with certain medications and other forms of treatment.

It is estimated that approximately 50% to 80% of those with Parkinson's disease will eventually develop at least mild dementia, while up to 20% will develop full-blown dementia. Symptoms of dementia may not be apparent until up to a decade after a Parkinson's diagnosis.

Symptoms

Since Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder, early signs of the disease may be too mild to be easily noticed, but, after time, will gradually worsen. The symptoms most commonly associated with Parkinson's disease include:

  • Tremors
  • Slowed movement
  • Writing changes
  • Loss of memory
  • Speech changes
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Depression
  • Loss of automatic movement
  • Impaired posture and balance
  • Sleeping problems
  • Irritability
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations

Causes

Parkinson's disease develops with the loss of neurons in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps control muscle movement. A decrease in dopamine levels leads to abnormal brain activity, causing symptoms of Parkinson's disease. However, it is currently unknown what causes the death of neurons in the brain. Research has found, though, that some factors may contribute to the risk of developing the disease.

As with most forms of dementia and disorders associated with dementia, age is one of the greatest predictors of Parkinson's disease. Although Parkinson's can develop in adults as younger than 50, known as young-onset Parkinson's, the average age of development is 62. Other strong predictors of developing Parkinson's disease include being male and, having a family member with the disease, exposure to certain chemicals and toxins, as well as injury to the brain.

Treatments

Although there is not yet a cure for Parkinson's disease, there are several treatment options available that can be used to manage, or even reduce, the symptoms of the disorder. There are medications, for example, that are effective at controlling dopamine levels, while others are helpful in reducing tremors and involuntary movements. Before taking any type of medication, however, it is important to discuss the benefits and side-effects of each drug with a doctor or medical professional.

If medication proves ineffective in treating an individual's symptoms of Parkinson's disease, there is a surgical procedure, known as deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery that may be performed. DBS surgery involves implanting electrodes on specific areas of the brain as well as an impulse generator in the chest. The generator can then be adjusted to send electrical impulses to the brain in order to reduce involuntary movement problems, tremors, and other symptoms of Parkinson's disease. As with all types of surgery, there are certain risks involved, including infections, stroke and bleeding, so talk with a doctor first about the risks, complications, and expectations of the procedure.

Patients with Parkinson's disease may also consider healthy life-style changes to help manage certain symptoms as well as improve their outlook and quality of life. Regular exercise, for instance, can help improve balance and flexibility, increase energy, and relieve stress. Furthermore, therapies, like physical and speech therapy, have been shown to slow the progression muscle problems associated with the disorder.