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Parkinson's Disease Awareness Month Brings New Outlook for Patients

Posted by on 4/28/2015
According to the National Parkinson Foundation, it is estimated that four to six million people worldwide live with Parkinson's disease. In the United States, 50,000-60,000 new cases of Parkinson's Disease are diagnosed each year, adding to the one million people who currently have it.  Complications from Parkinson's disease cause it to be the 14th leading cause of death in the United States.

What is Parkinson's Disease? How Does it Affect Patients, including Dementia?

An initial understanding of the disease is a good place to start.  Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative brain disorder. That means the brain, slowly over time, loses its ability to effectively control body movements and emotions as it should. The cause is due to the patient's brain producing less and less of the neurotransmitter (or brain messenger) called dopamine, which controls body movements. When less dopamine is produced, muscles of the patient cannot move in coordinated fashion - resulting in the tremors, shuffled walk, soft voice, and stoic face that you might associate with Parkinson's disease.

50% of all Parkinson's patients will experience some form of cognitive impairment, a type of dementia. It can cause slower thinking and trouble with attention, memory, problem solving and communication.  Patients with milder cognitive changes might learn to use schedules and other strategies to manage memory loss; those with more significant Parkinson's-related dementia, will need more supervision and support from caregivers.  Learn how MindStart products can help when cognitive functions decline.

What are the Treatments for Parkinson's Disease?

Treatment for Parkinson's disease is all about managing the symptoms, as there is no cure. Treatment can include:
  • Medications to replace the missing dopamine or mimic what it does in the brain, helping to reduce muscle tightness and tremors
  • Exercise is a vital component to treatment and might even slow the disease progression.
  • Occupational, physical, and/or speech therapy to help with walking, balance, performance of daily living skills, cognitive challenges that can appear, talking, and volume of the voice. A newer approach used by some therapists is the LVST Big and LVST Loud programs. These approaches use exaggerated movements and volume of the voice, which can result in improved movement and communication.  See the video below for more about this technique.
  • Music therapy has also been shown to help with breathing, movement, and with using rhythm to help when a patient has "freezing" episodes in their movement.
  • In more severe cases, when symptoms cannot be managed by medication, surgical interventions maybe be used, such as deep brain stimulation.  A medical device (similar to a heart pacemaker) is placed in the brain to provide electrical stimulation in the brain that blocks faulty brain signals that cause tremors and other symptoms.
Researchers are working hard to find both medical treatments and alternative strategies to manage the day to day symptoms of Parkinson's disease and to, hopefully, eliminate them altogether in the future.  But for today, here are some helpful resource links that can help those who experience the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and caregivers, along with a video of the LSVT Big therapy program.


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