This is the first post in the series of blogs I will write about Parkinson’s, to honor my grandmother, who passed away last week.
This is an introduction to the disease that is Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease, much like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s, where Alzheimer is much more prevalent than PD, and Huntington’s is more rare. The prognosis for PD is bad, as it’s progressive. Right now there are no cures for PD, except for some medication that mainly subdue symptoms, but don’t actually fight the disease itself.
People with PD show symptoms in the motor functions, but also show psychiatric symptoms.
The best known symptom of Parkinson’s is the tremor that patients get. This is a “rest tremor”, meaning that they only show the tremor when the limb is at rest (they also often occur in the mouth and chin).
PD patients have severe difficulty walking. Their joints and muscles are rigid, and a patient’s balance becomes impaired as the disease progresses, which often causes them to fall while walking. There’s a term for the way a Parkinson’s patient walks, the “Parkinsonian gait”:
Neurologychannel.com: Parkinsonian gait is the distinctive unsteady walk associated with Parkinson’s disease. There is a tendency to lean unnaturally backward or forward, and to develop a stooped, head-down, shoulders-drooped stance. Arm swing is diminished or absent and people with Parkinson’s tend to take small shuffling steps (called festination). Patient’s with Parkinson’s may have trouble starting to walk, may appear to be falling forward as they walk, may freeze in mid-stride, and may have difficulty making a turn.
Also, people with PD have a lot of trouble controlling the muscles in their faces, which results in extreme difficulty speaking and swallowing. They’re also known to have a “mask-like” face expression because of it.
As I mentioned in my first post, my grandmother eventually became paralyzed as well. This was actually something not directly related to Parkinson’s. I’m not sure as to what happened exactly, but because of the frequent falls she got a blood clot in her neck, which her doctors noticed too late (no blame there, doctors aren’t perfect either).
People with PD show some psychiatric symptoms as well, which can be as disabling as the motor symptoms.
Patients can become demented, which is common as they run a sixfold chance at dementia and prevalence increases to 80% as the disease advances, but it’s not seen in every case of PD. For instance, my grandmother never demented at all, not even at the very last day. They often say that “dementia decreases the quality of life for the patient and the caregiver(s)”, but being fully aware of how sick your body is, is just as awful.
People with PD often show mood disorders as well, mostly depression and anxiety. Psychotic symptoms (hallucinations and delusions) are common in advanced PD as well, but I personally doubt that this is actually a symptom of the disease itself, as the medication for PD is known to produce psychotic symptoms, but this is something I’ll discuss in a later blog.
There are many many other symptoms, if you’re interested in reading more about them, see this page on the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation’s website.
If you have any questions or comments about the symptoms of PD, feel free to reply!
Next blog will be about the neuroscience of PD, where I’ll explain how many of the symptoms come into existence as well.