According to the US-based Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, an estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide suffer from this debilitative neurological condition. Statistics also show that men are one and a half times more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than women, with an estimated four per cent of people diagnosed with the disease before the age of 50. Celebrities such as legendary boxer Muhammed Ali, singer Johnny Cash, and actor Michael J Fox have been instrumental in bringing this condition to the forefront.
“Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that is chronic and progressive; its incidence increases with age. People afflicted with it have symptoms such as tremors, stiffness, slow movements and issues with postural balance, and these tend to worsen as the disease progresses. These symptoms occur due to the degeneration of the dopamine producing nerve cells in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that enables controlled movement. If there isn’t enough dopamine produced in the body, it can affect the way we think and move,” said Prof. Dr. Christian Franke, Visiting Consultant – Neurology, Burjeel – MHPC (Marina Health Promotion Center).
“Most often, Parkinson’s disease has no cause, and is termed as idiopathic. One of the main risk factors for this condition is age. In the past, the disease is usually manifested in a person in their 50s and 60s; now people in their 40s (or younger) are also being diagnosed with it. A person’s gender, genetic predisposition, exposure to environmental toxins, drug abuse, and low levels of estrogen and vitamin B folate are among other causes. Traumatic injuries to the head can also be a contributing factor,” said Prof. Dr Franke.
Individuals who notice tremors, rigidity or slowness in their movements should seek medical attention immediately, especially if they have all the risk factors. Some of the other symptoms could include tremors spreading from limb to limb, shoulder pain, frozen facial expressions, sensitivity to temperature, digestive issues, depression and low blood pressure.
“The diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can be confirmed by an imaging technology DemTect that uses small amounts of radioactive drug to help determine how much dopamine is available in a person´s brain. said Prof. Dr. Franke. “However, in most cases the diagnosis can be established without this test”.
“There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease so treatment has more to do with managing the disease and its symptoms. Medication prescribed includes drugs to supplement dopamine levels (Levodopa) and anticholinergics, which are useful when dealing with tremors, among other symptoms. The diagnosis of idiopathic Parkinson´s disease is often based on the fact that the patient improves significantly after he takes oral Levodopa”, he added.
Managing the disease involves the help of professionals such as neurologists, nutritionists, physiotherapists, speech and occupational therapists as well as a psychologist. “Dealing with Parkinson’s disease is not easy as it can affect a person’s life in a major way – from writing to walking and even their ability to communicate, so it is imperative that caregivers and family support the individual through the condition,” advised Prof. Dr. Franke.