Parkinson’s Awareness Month – What is Parkinson’s disease?

Woman with Parkinson's disease hold her hands

Over 145,000 people are living with Parkinson’s Disease in the UK. Throughout April, Heritage Healthcare Epsom will be raising awareness of Parkinson’s Disease and how we can support people living with the condition within their own home.   

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition, affecting parts of the brain. It develops when cells in a small part of the brain, the substania nigra, stop working correctly and are lost. It is these brain cells that develop dopamine, which sends messages to the brain to control movement, but as these chemicals stop being produced, symptoms start to show.   

Around 1 in 500 people will be affected by Parkinson’s disease. Most of these people will start to develop symptoms when they are over 50 years old, and men are more likely to develop the condition.  

What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?  

There are three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are:  

  • A tremor – uncontrollable movement that affects part of the body.  
  • Stiffness or rigidity in the muscles – this can stop muscles from stretching and relaxing, causing pain or cramp.  
  • Slow movement (bradykinesia) – this could be short, shuffled steps when walking, taking longer to do tasks or lacking co-ordination.  

Other symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease can include mild memory problems, depression and low mood, problems with sleeping and pain.   

Not everyone will experience the three main symptoms, and the severity of the symptom can change from person to person. 

What are the different types of Parkinsonism?  

Parkinsonism is a term to describe several conditions with similar symptoms such as slow movement and rigidity. There are 3 types of parkinsonism, caused by different factors.   

The most common type is idiopathic Parkinson’s disease, in which the three main symptoms can occur. The cause of idiopathic Parkinson’s is unknown, but research is continually being conducted to find out why it happens.   

Vascular parkinsonism can be caused after someone has a mild stroke. It affects people with restricted blood supply, and symptoms can include sleeping problems, memory issues, and changes to mood and movement.   

Drug-induced parkinsonism can be caused by some drugs such as neuroleptic drugs that are used to treat schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. The medication is used to block dopamine in the brain from sending messages, causing parkinsonism symptoms. This only affects a small number of people, and most will recover within a few months after they stop taking the medication.  

How is Parkinson’s Disease diagnosed?  

As the symptoms of Parkinson’s is gradual, it can take months or years before someone goes to their GP. If you feel like you or a loved one is experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, book an appointment with your doctor.   

There is no conclusive test that can show if someone has Parkinson’s disease or not; a specialist will look into your medical history, the symptoms experienced and a detailed physical examination to diagnose the condition. A GP will refer the patient to a neurologist (a specialist in brain and nervous system conditions) or a geriatrician (a specialist in problems affecting older people).   

To examine the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, the specialist will ask you to write or draw, walk, speak, and will look and ask you about your face and the expressions you can make and your limbs, to see if there is a tremor, stiffness or slowness in movement.  

How is Parkinson’s Disease treated?  

Although there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there is a range of treatments and therapies to support people living with the condition.   

Depending on the diagnosis and the symptoms experienced, a specialist may prescribe medication to treat the condition. The medication could be Levodopa, which is absorbed in the brain and turned into dopamine to transmit messages in the brain. Dopamine agonists may also be prescribed, which acts as a dopamine substitute, or Monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B) inhibitors, that blocks enzymes or other substances in the brain from breaking down dopamine.   

Supportive therapies help make living with Parkinson’s disease easier. Physiotherapy helps to relieve stiffness and tense muscles through exercise and movement. Occupational therapy supports day-to-day living and ensures the home is safe to maintain independence. For those struggling with speech or have swallowing difficulties, speech and language therapy can help to improve these symptoms.   

If medication and drug treatments no longer control symptoms, surgery may be required. With deep brain stimulation, a pulse generator is placed under the skin near the chest or stomach area and send electrodes to deliver high-frequency stimulation to target areas in the brain.

For those who are living with Parkinson’s disease, symptoms and experiences can differ. At Heritage Healthcare Epsom, our care team are trained to deliver care to clients living with Parkinson’s disease to help them feel safe and supported in the comfort of their own homes.   

To find out more about Parkinson’s Disease, Parkinson’s UK website provides a variety of information and advice about the condition.   

If you would like to find out how we can support you and your loved ones at home, you can contact our friendly team through your preferred contact method here.     

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