HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE PARKINSON'S DISEASE?
Parkinson's disease can affect anyone - male or female and at any age, although it is more common in older age.
The four key 'motor' symptoms are tremor, bradykinesia (slowness of movement), muscle rigidity and postural instability (falls). Generally you must have bradykinesia plus another of these key symptoms for a diagnosis of Parkinson's to be considered. It is worth noting that in 30% of cases tremor will not be present. There are also a range of other symptoms that people with Parkinson's can experience, these may include, small handwriting, no arm swing when walking, shuffling gait, freezing of movement, sleep disorders, cognitive (thinking) changes, mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, pain, fatigue, sensory changes and speech changes.
The nature and severity of symptoms can vary considerably from one individual to another. In the early stages of the disease, symptoms can be vague and non-specific such as constipation, loss of smell, fatigue or muscle pain.
WHAT WILL MY DOCTOR DO IF PARKINSON'S IS SUSPECTED?
Your doctor may order some tests to exclude other possible causes of your symptoms; however, there is no definitive test for Parkinson's disease. A diagnosis of Parkinson's disease relies very much on a detailed history of your symptoms and a clinical examination and assessment. It is not always easy to diagnose Parkinson's and you may be referred to a neurologist who specialises in movement disorders for further assessment and treatment.
WHAT CAUSES PARKINSON'S DISEASE?
We understand that the cells in a particular part of the brain die off, causing a reduction in the level of the neurotransmitter (brain messenger chemical) dopamine. This particularly affects movement and coordination but most systems in the body can be impacted. There are several theories on what causes Parkinson's; however, at this time we do not have a clear picture of what triggers this dying off process and why some people are affected and others are not.
IS PARKINSON'S DISEASE HEREDITARY?
The short answer is no, although in a very small number of cases it appears that Parkinson's can be hereditary and they will have a number of direct (blood related) relatives who are also affected. You should not worry about having passed the disease on to your children. There are some genetic mutations that increase the risk of getting Parkinson's but most people with these mutations will not actually get Parkinson's.
Like many other diseases, Parkinson's disease is thought to be the result of a complex interaction between both genetic and environmental factors.
IS THERE A CURE?
Not yet. Parkinson's disease is usually slowly progressive and is currently incurable. However, there are a variety of medications and treatments that can help control or reduce the symptoms of Parkinson's. Many people with Parkinson's disease live full and productive lives.
Parkinson's Australia is working with researchers and others in the community to help find a cure and better treatments and supports for people living with Parkinson's.
I TAKE MY PRESCRIBED MEDICATIONS, WHAT ELSE CAN I DO?
It is important to stay as active as possible. Don't give up on daily activities and incorporate regular exercise into your life. We know that exercise can help people manage their symptoms and it is possible that it may slow the progression of the condition. It is also important to maintain your social life and keep active in your community.
WHERE CAN I GET HELP?
Doctors, Parkinson's Specialist Nurses, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists and Speech Pathologists are among those who can provide advice on managing your disease. Many people also benefit from talking to other people who are similarly affected with the disease. Parkinson's Australia's State organisations can put you in contact with other individuals or support groups in your area.
HOW CAN I HELP SOMEONE WITH PARKINSON'S DISEASE?
You may need some support if you are living with or caring for someone with Parkinson's disease. Depending on your circumstances, the stage of their disease and their ability to function independently, you may just need information to help you understand the disease. Later, there may be a need for advice and practical support with the physical demands of caring for someone with a progressively disabling disease. Consider also your own personal needs and seek counselling if necessary.