What is Parkinson's disease?
There are many questions surrounding Parkinson's disease, and several of the more frequently asked questions are answered here. If you have a question that is not addressed here, please feel free to send us some feedback
See the Wellness Center
for more information on the disease, symptoms, treatment, and better living tips.
What is Parkinson's disease?
The symptoms of Parkinson's disease, or Parkinsonism (PD), result from the degeneration of nerve cells in the mid-brain, and the corresponding loss of the neurotransmitting chemical dopamine produced by those cells.
More specifically, Parkinson's is a disorder of body movement. It is a progressive neurological disease that affects people of either sex and all ethnic groups. PD is NOT fatal. It is NOT infectious. It CANNOT be transmitted to other members of the family.
Over 1 million Americans suffer from PD, with more victims, young and old, being diagnosed daily. 40% of the victims are under the age of 60. It is estimated that PD costs the U.S. over $26 billion annually in disability costs and lost productivity. Neither the cause nor the cure for PD is known.
Because the disease is progressive, it may ultimately become debilitating. Without adequate treatment and support, people with Parkinson's may tend to become depressed and withdrawn. However, with modern drug treatment and community support, such isolation is unnecessary.
A Glossary of Terms
may help in understanding some of the words and phrases used in describing Parkinson's Disease.
Who gets Parkinson's disease?
"Parkinson's does not discriminate. It afflicts people regardless of gender, race, background, behavior, lifestyle or geographic area. Despite the common perception that PD is an "old person's" disease, the average age of diagnosis is 57 years, with many diagnosed in their 30's and even 20's; yet due to the debilitating nature of the disease, the Parkinson's community has been largely invisible to the public and the government."*
What causes Parkinson's?
Parkinson's disease is caused by the failure of a group of nerve cells in the brain to produce adequate amounts of a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is necessary for smooth, coordinated movement and muscle relaxation. It is not known why the cells cease producing dopamine. However, it is likely that research will soon provide the answer.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson's?
Three main symptoms may be experienced by people with PD: Slowed movements (called bradykinesia), resting tremor (shaking in an arm or leg when it is not being moved), muscle rigidity (stiffness), and postural instability. Symptoms typically begin on one side of the body (unilateral) and progress to include both sides.
Each person's pattern of symptoms is unique. Some people have only one or two of the main symptoms. Others may have all major symptoms in varying degrees of severity
What are the statistics?
Parkinson's disease affects over one million people in the U.S., more people than Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and Lou Gehrig's Disease combined.
Estimated number of people with PD in Washington State = 31,500
Every year there are 100,000 new cases, or 20 per 100,000 people, the incidence rising with age.
At present 1% of the population over 50 has Parkinson'. This number will increase in concert with the number of older people. In 1900 there were 3.5 million people over age 65; in 2000, there will be 35 million.
The annual cost of Parkinson's disease in 1997 in the U.S. was estimated to be $24,041 per patient, with an aggregate annual cost of $24 billion. The pressure to provide cost effective services is mounting.
Treatment for Parkinson's
Many of the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease can be treated, even though to date there is no cure. Research has provided us with medications which are very effective over long periods of time. Physiotherapists, Nutritionists, Speech and Occupational Therapists, and Counselors can all help to maintain and improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson'.
Family resources for Parkinson's
There are many great resources on the internet for those touched by Parkinson's disease - the patient, family and the caregiver. Please visit our Web Resource
page for a list of internet resources.
Advocacy is the act of supporting and speaking out for a cause or proposal. In the Parkinson's arena, this most often takes the form of political activism and lobbying efforts to increase funding for research. It can also refer to the raising of public awareness of PD or helping an individual with Parkinson's improve their quality of life.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) has a useful advocacy site, www.camradvocacy.org
, which would certainly be worth your time to investigate.
What is the cost of Parkinson's?
"The annual costs (health care, disability, loss of productivity, long-term care, etc.) associated with PD total $25 Billion -- a cost that will only increase as the Baby Boom generation ages. Parkinson's also robs people of their lives and their ability to contribute fully to their family, community and country. The cost of medications and currently available surgical therapies is also very expensive."
Current medical research
"There is tremendous research potential in several areas, including neuroprotective agents, improved stimulation devices, cell replacement, and bioengineering of cells. But this potential can only be translated into improved therapies, treatments and potential cures if there is adequate federal support for Parkinson's research."
Many articles on the latest research in PD are available on the home page
for this web site.
Also, the NWPF's Parkinson's Post
newsletter provides a tremendous amount of useful material for those coping with Parkinson's.
There are many resources on the Internet and elsewhere. These resources provide support and information regarding Parkinson's disease, and are worthy of investigation.
See our list of resources
on the Web for a group of worthy sites, mailing lists, and more.