April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month! Many are using this month as an opportunity to raise awareness among the general population about this disease and the more than one and a half million Americans it affects.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases are generally associated with older individuals and are recognizable by name to the public; however, many people have just a vague idea of exactly what Parkinson’s is.
Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder that most commonly occurs in people ages 65 and older; in fact, recent estimates indicate that 1% of all seniors have some form of Parkinson’s disease, and approximately 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. In Parkinson’s sufferers, large numbers of neurons (also called nerve cells) in the part of the brain that affects muscle coordination start to die or become damaged. The death of these neurons has a serious effect on the body’s ability to control its muscles, and in its early stages it causes mild symptoms such as hand tremors, balance difficulties, cramps in the hands, and difficulty moving.
Parkinson’s, like Alzheimer’s disease, is progressive, so what may start out as just tremors in one hand can progress to debilitating pain and an inability to use many muscles. Dementia may also set in as the disease worsens.
Diagnosis can be difficult, especially because symptoms and their effects can vary greatly from one person to the next. Further complicating matters, there are several disorders that have similar symptoms but are not Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, sometimes blocked blood vessels or certain medications may bring about symptoms that mimic those of early Parkinson’s disease.
At this time, there is no cure for Parkinson’s and it is considered irreversible; however, there are treatments that can impede or slow its progression. In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery, but there are often risks associated with this kind of surgery, especially in those of advanced years.
Parkinson’s disease is a serious and potentially devastating disorder, and because it is irreversible, potential sufferers should be diagnosed as early as possible. If you suffer from any symptoms that may indicate Parkinson’s, be sure to inform your doctor immediately. Remember, it is much better to give your doctor too much information than too little.