Here’s a Primer on Common Parkinson’s Terms and Abbreviations

Sherri Woodbridge avatar

by Sherri Woodbridge |

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When you are new to something, it’s common to feel disconnected or out of place — especially when it comes to understanding the language. At church, newcomers may hear words that don’t make any sense. “Churchy” people (including me) tend to throw around big words.

It also occurs with abbreviations. I’ve seen it happen in the Parkinson’s community. It isn’t intentional, but it happens. Someone might read a post with the abbreviation “PWP” and ask, “What is PWP?” Some might even add an apology of sorts: “Sorry, I’m not very smart.”

Big words

Following is a list of common words and definitions that may be unfamiliar to a Parkinson’s newbie:

  • Akinesia: Inability to move spontaneously; loss of voluntary movement.
  • Ataxia: Impaired balance, coordination, and muscle control.
  • Bradykinesia: Slowed movement.
  • Carbidopa-levodopa: Medication used to relieve Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
  • Dopamine: Acts as one of the brain’s messengers to signal movement and maintain balance and coordination.
  • Rigidity: Muscle stiffness and resistance to movement.
  • Postural instability: A term with big words referring to balance issues.
  • Dyskinesia: Abnormal, involuntary movements.
  • Micrographia: Small, cramped, often illegible handwriting.
  • Facial masking: Facial muscles become immobilized, giving the patient a mask-like expression.

Did you know all those words and their meanings when Parkinson’s first arrived at your door? I know I felt out of place when someone would use “dyskinesia” to describe actor Michael J. Fox’s symptoms. It can be awkward when you don’t know.


The same is true when we throw around abbreviations such as:

  • DBS: Deep brain stimulation.
  • PD: Parkinson’s disease.
  • MDS: Movement disorder specialist, a neurologist who has training specific to Parkinson’s and other movement disorders.
  • PWP: Person (or people) with Parkinson’s disease.

Those may seem second nature to us, but not to someone who was just diagnosed.

The same holds true for the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF), American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA), Parkinson’s Foundation (PF), and more. We tend to abbreviate them, forgetting that the majority of people don’t know what Parkinson’s disease is, let alone the abbreviations of its foundational and organizational names.

Keep it simple

We don’t need to dumb things down, we just need to keep them simple. Starting with the PWP who might be considering DBS as suggested by an MDS and are searching for information from the MJFF to help them understand.

That’s all.


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Judith Alexandra Miller avatar

Judith Alexandra Miller

The "definition" given for postural instability (a term with big words referring to balance issues) is too vague to be helpful. I suggest as a simple description: Postural instability is difficulty maintaining normal posture because of poor balance.


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