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What is Parkinson’s Disease by Alyssa Crawford

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Parkinson’s disease is a non-life-threatening disease that affects the nervous system; specifically the cells in the brain that produce dopamine and acetylcholine.  It happens when these cells begin to fail.

Although the main cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, it can sometimes be caused because of the person’s genes, an infection, toxins, using illegal drugs, a negative reaction to prescription drugs, thyroid issues, or even strokes.

Anyone can develop Parkinson’s disease; however, it typically occurs in older people. There have been more men with Parkinson’s disease than women.   A beginning symptom could be the person’s hand trembling slightly, and they may not even realize it is happening.  Another early symptom could be that the person notices their hand is stiff or weak, or that they are rigid.  Once again, these symptoms could go unnoticed.

As the disease progresses, the trembling could worsen or even spread along with the slow decline of coordination and balance.  Along with the physical decline, there can also be mental problems such as depression.  A person with Parkinson’s disease will usually have trouble walking and keeping their balance.  They will often shuffle their feet instead of taking steps and are susceptible to falls.  They also lose control over their other limbs and even over their throat muscles, making it difficult to swallow.

Parkinson’s disease is hard to diagnose.  It cannot be tested using a lab or even a brain scan.  A person is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease after a doctor assesses them with physical tests such as having their patient relax while they check to see if they are rigid in any way, having them tap their foot and watching to see if the movement is slow, or watching their hands for trembling.

Since a cure for Parkinson’s disease has not yet been found, a doctor will often prescribe an amino acid called Levodopa (also referred to as L-dopa) that the brain turns into dopamine.  The use of this amino acid can aid the person in moving more freely.  There are also dopamine agonists, which are medications that act like dopamine and work in the same way as Levodopa.  Some dopamine agonists that may be prescribed are Mirapex, Parlodel, Requip, Comtan, Tasmar, and Apokyn.  Sometimes, surgery and deep brain stimulation can be helpful.  Deep brain stimulation is when electrodes are implanted into the brain.  Although deep brain stimulation can make symptoms less severe, it cannot stop symptoms or keep the disease from getting worse.  Also, these surgeries are not the best option for everyone.  Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is helpful for people with Parkinson’s disease.  They will want to eat foods that are high in vitamin D and calcium to assist with building bone strength.

As the disease continues its progression, the person will often have a hard time walking, talking, or even swallowing.  Parkinson’s disease is not only challenging for the person who has it but also for their spouse and family members.  Since the person will eventually be unable to walk, they will rely on either a family member or a hired nurse to assist them.

Along with making sure there is always someone to assist the person with Parkinson’s disease, adjustments will have to be made to the person’s house to keep them safe.  Anything on the floor, such as rugs, will have to be removed to prevent the person from tripping and falling.  Also, some people install handrails in the shower for them to hold on to or get shower chairs for the patient to sit in while they are being bathed.

Although there is not currently a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, the medical field is constantly growing and changing and finding new ways to help people cope with this disease.

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