Parkinson’s Disease is a common degenerative neurological disorder with a specific etiology and a unique set of signs and symptoms including tremor, stiffness, slowed movements and poor balance. Though there are cases of young people getting Parkinson’s Disease and even the very rare occasion of children affected, it usually strikes the older population more frequently with the age of 60 years and increasing in frequency after that. Some feel that the incidence of the disease is on the rise, though at this point it is hard to say if more people are actually getting Parkinson’s Disease or whether the medical community has gotten better at diagnosing it.
The etiology, the cause or origin of the disease, is related to the loss of the brain chemicals including dopamine. The neurons of the substantia nigra of the brain are thought to degenerate which in turn affects the brain’s ability to generate and coordinate body movement as well as regulate other functions of the body including the autonomic nervous system. There are many proposed causes. There are some familial cases in which multiple family members are diagnosed, but, most cases remain unknown.
The prognosis, the eventual outcome of the disease, is much better than it once was. Earlier diagnosis and prompt treatment with effective medications make it possible for most with the disease to lead a relatively normal life for many years. With the medications and treatments that are available today, severe advancement of the disease is usually delayed for many years or sometimes even avoided. However, it is important to remember there is no cure and even with treatment, the disease remains chronic and continues to progress over time.
Parkinson’s Disease is a chronic progressive disease that affects millions of people. While living with the disease becomes easier with newer treatment, there is no cure and there is still much we do not know about the disease. With as common as this disease is, it is likely that many of us will eventually be afflicted by it in one way or another whether we develop the disease ourselves or care about someone who does. Our best hope remains early diagnosis, research and clinical management.