30 Days of PD: How Parkinson’s Affects the Body’s Dopamine Levels

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Parkinson's News Today | Brian Reedy, in a red T-shirt and shorts, poses with Jimmy Choi, in a blue-gray T-shirt and shorts, outdoors among a prairie field

From left, Brian Reedy and Jimmy Choi. Photo courtesy of Brian Reedy

Day 29 of 30

This is Brian Reedy’s story:

In the book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch asks his young daughter to put herself in another person’s shoes — or skin — to see things from a different perspective in order to work through her concerns. I call this the “Atticus Finch Principle.”

That is what I want to ask of you in this post, which aims to raise awareness about Parkinson’s disease. I will address only the surface level of the disease, as to get into its various nuances would require a book. This is much simpler.

Life with Parkinson’s disease is more complex than most people realize. It doesn’t just involve an annoying tremor. Parkinson’s means the brain is producing about 80% less dopamine for the body. Dopamine is an essential component of many of our skills that seem natural or automatic. It helps with muscle movement, cognitive functioning, and communication and provides the brain’s “feel-good factor” in daily life.

A lack of dopamine due to Parkinson’s means autonomic nervous system dysfunction, which involves things like swallowing, bladder and bowel control, sleep, and more. These are the nonmotor parts of our day-to-day living experience.

With that basic approach to understanding some of the nuances of Parkinson’s, take a few moments to apply the “Atticus Finch Principle” to your own life and body. The stiffness, the muscle cramping, and the slower movement might seem like just a rough day you had after overdoing it. But this is your new normal now, and it rarely gets better. So you just get used to it and continue exercising to keep it from worsening.

As you go on with your morning routine, you notice you have a sense of sadness and apathy about everything. Your personality may have been positive and upbeat, but now you no longer feel that way naturally. It’s difficult for you to improve your mood. Your apathy makes it difficult to motivate yourself to start your normal routine. Instead, you have an overwhelming sense of sadness that sticks with you throughout the day, and the many days that follow.

Parkinson’s News Today’s 30 Days of PD campaign will publish one story per day for Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month in April. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more stories like this, using the hashtag #30DaysofPD, or read the full series.