Parkinson’s Disease and the Elderly

Celebrities like Michael J. Fox have brought more and more awareness to Parkinson’s disease. In this article we are going to discuss what Parkinson’s disease is, the symptoms that manifest with the disease, the diagnosis of the disease, and some of the ways to treat it.

So first, the basics: Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that manifests when certain neurons in the brain either die or become impaired in some way. These nerve cells are located in a structure in the midbrain that controls muscle movement and produce dopamine, which is the chemical needed for coordinated muscle function. Symptoms generally appear when 80% of neurons are damaged.

According to reports from the National Institute of Health (NIH), the disease affects men twice as much as women, and it can impact people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, and socio-economic status.

In the elderly, the most common symptom of Parkinson’s disease is the persistent tremor that appears, but other signs may include sluggish movement, stiffness and difficulty with balance, hand cramps, shuffling, frozen facial expressions, muffled speech patterns, and depression. Parkinson’s is not easily diagnosed, since neither x-rays nor blood tests can reveal the disease.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s, like those of Alzheimer’s, progress and get worse as time goes on. More tremors affect dexterity, movement can slow considerably, and more. Since symptoms vary greatly from person to person, doctors are often not able to tell when or how quickly symptoms may worsen, or even what symptoms may affect each person.

The proper examinations must be made by a neurologist or other qualified person in order to diagnose the disease, but what makes things difficult is that there are many conditions that are able to mimic the symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as:

  • Progressive Supranuclear Palsy -The condition normally affects those over 50 and typically gets worse faster than Parkinson’s, and results in imbalance, falling, stiffening midsection and difficulty with eye movement.
  • Corticobasal Degenerationis -While uncommon, this condition affects speech, balance, and posture and can also cause slowness of movement. Any limbs that are affect by this usually become severely or completely disabled over time.
  • Multiple System Atrophy -This is the most difficult disease to distinguish from Parkinson’s, and has an earlier onset of symptoms (mid 50s) and quick progression as two defining characteristics of the disease. More symptoms can appear as the condition worsens that may hint at other compromised body systems.
  • Vascular Parkinsonism -This is caused by a small series of strokes and usually leads to challenges with mobility, and is located in the legs much more often than the arms. And though treatments for the conditions are the same as with PD, it is generally much less successful.
  • Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) -Lewy bodies are the round protein structures that form among brain cells that displace them and disrupt proper functioning. Sufferers of LBD will generally exhibit Parkinsonism as well as cognitive impairment that is similar to Alzheimer’s.

Parkinson’s disease is both an irreversible and progressive disease, but there are some treatments, such as:

  • Levodopain in combination with carbidopais
  • Dopamine agonists
  • Surgery is also an option, but only after all others have been exhausted

This article was designed to give you a brief overview of what Parkinson’s is, its symptoms, and a few other facts related diseases and treatments. If you or a loved one is suffering from Parkinson’s, be sure and talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you might have.