What You Should Know About Parkinson's Disease

Every year on April 11, groups around the world raise awareness for Parkinson’s disease on World Parkinson’s Day. This disorder affects millions of people, many of them seniors. Kingsway Community recognizes and supports our residents and their loved ones who are diagnosed and affected.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that affects the central nervous systems and body parts, as well as functions that are controlled by nerves. The specific cause for Parkinson’s disease is currently unknown, but the disorder’s progression is understood. When someone has Parkinson’s disease, neurons (the brain’s nerve cells) die or become impaired, producing less dopamine. Most people know dopamine in association with feelings of pleasure, but it also plays a crucial role in regulating brain activity. A decrease in dopamine levels causes irregular brain activity, which in turn affects the nerves in the body.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Tremors
  • Slowed movements
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Loss of balance
  • Change in posture
  • Loss of automatic movements (like swinging your arms while walking)
  • Changes in speech and writing
  • Difficulty in chewing and swallowing
  • Urinary problems or constipation

Early symptoms are often mild, sometimes even unnoticeable. But as the disorder progresses, these symptoms increase in severity.

Risk Factors

While there is not one specific cause that can be linked with Parkinson’s disease, there are several potential causes that correlate with an increased risk.

  • Age. Perhaps the strongest link known at this time, most people with Parkinson’s develop symptoms after age 60.
  • Genetics. Certain combinations of genetic markers have been linked to Parkinson’s. However, the risk seems to be rather small; Parkinson’s disease is not a common familial disorder.
  • Toxins from the environment. There have been several studies that show exposure to pesticides and herbicides are correlated to an increased likelihood of Parkinson’s.

There is a strong correlation between Parkinson's disease and Lewy bodies, which are collections of proteins that form in neurons. People with Parkinson’s disease have Lewy bodies (although not everyone with Lewy bodies develops Parkinson’s). It is currently unknown why Lewy bodies form. However, as Lewy bodies are not only linked with Parkinson’s but also two different types of dementia, scientists are continuing to research them.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Currently, there is no test to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. Instead, neurologists review a patient’s symptoms, medical history, and results from physical and neurological exams. Additional tests may be needed to support a diagnosis or eliminate other possibilities. After a sufficient review, a neurologist will diagnose a patient with Parkinson’s.

Another way to diagnose Parkinson’s is to give a patient sufficient doses of carbidopa-levodopa, a Parkinson’s disease medication. If symptoms greatly improve while a patient takes this medication, then a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is confirmed. (This method is not always used, as some people may not be affected by the medication.)

While there currently is no cure for Parkinson’s, there are several medications to manage and treat movement and non-movement symptoms. However, not everyone benefits from these medications, and some of them lose effectiveness over time. In some cases, doctors may suggest surgery, such as deep brain stimulation, to help alleviate symptoms.

Physical, speech, and occupational therapies are used to help patients enhance their quality of life. They have also been shown to slow advancing symptoms. Additionally, regular exercise (specifically aerobic exercise) and a healthy diet can further support patients.

Kingsway and You

A diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can feel overwhelming. But with proper care and guidance, you can maintain a quality of life to make wonderful memories with.

Kingsway Community is committed to helping you and your family through Parkinson’s diagnosis, treatment, and management. Our staff is trained to work with residents with Parkinson’s and related disorders. Our continuum of care means that residents can change their level of care when needed, without having to move to a completely new location. At Kingsway, we strive to make you feel at home at every level of care.

Information for this guide was gathered from several sources, including Mayo Clinic, National Institute on Aging, and Parkinson’s Foundation.


Senior Health & Wellbeing