Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects a patient’s movement. Symptoms include shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement (bradykinesia), changes in speech and writing, and problems with walking. Symptoms arise from the death of dopamine-generating cells in the substantia nigra, a region of the midbrain. The reasons for this cell death are still unclear.
Most cases occur in people over 50 years of age, and when it is found in younger people, it is referred to as young onset PD. In the later stages of the disease, other problems often arise in addition to the motor symptoms, including difficulties with behavior, emotion, sleep and cognition. Depression is very common among PD patients, and dementia often occurs in the later stages.
There is no cure for PD, but some medications such as L-DOPA (precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine) as well as dopamine agonist drugs can improve symptoms in the early stages of the disease. In the later stages, however, these drugs become ineffective as the dopaminergic neurons continue to die, and taking them may lead to bad side effects, such as involuntary writhing movements.
In severe cases that are unresponsive to drug treatment, surgery and deep brain stimulation have been found to help alleviate certain symptoms. Patients may also take medications to relieve some of the non-motor symptoms of PD, such as insomnia and emotional problems.
Some groups of people have a greater or lower risk of developing PD. People who have been exposed to certain pesticides and herbicides and those who carry the virus hepatitis C are at greater risk of PD. Those who eat a Mediterranean diet seem to have some protection from the disease, as do smokers, because of the neuroprotective effect of nicotine on dopaminergic neurons. In fact, nicotine is being explored as a treatment for the disease.
Alternative therapies, such as yoga, meditation, tai chi, acupuncture and massage have been shown to help alleviate symptoms. Taking the supplement coenzyme Q10 may be beneficial for people in the early stages of the disease.
Example: After starting several alternative therapies, including acupuncture and Tai Chi, Roger’s Parkinson’s symptoms and depression have become less severe.