Newly Diagnosed: Taking the First Step on Your Journey
Becoming educated is a good place to start on your journey with Parkinson’s disease. Whether you are a patient or a caregiver, knowing as much as possible about the disease will help you be a more active participant in your or your loved one’s healthcare. Learn more below about Parkinson’s, its causes, symptoms, and how it’s diagnosed.
Parkinson’s disease is a condition that affects the brain, resulting in a progressive loss of coordination and movement. It is the most common form of parkinsonism disorders and is sometimes called idiopathic or primary parkinsonism. The disease is named after a British physician, James Parkinson, who first described it in “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy” in 1817.
A group of neurological disorders that display very similar symptoms to Parkinson’s disease are included under the general term of parkinsonism. Most patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s have what is called primary parkinsonism or idiopathic Parkinson’s disease (meaning that the disease has no known cause). The remaining types of Parkinson’s are termed secondary, or atypical parkinsonism or Parkinson’s plus.
Parkinson’s disease is caused by the impairment or death of dopamine-producing nerve cells (neurons) in a region of the brain called the substantia nigra, which controls the body’s balance and movement. It is thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of the disease. In most cases, the disease is not inherited. However, some patients have a family history of the disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a complex condition with many potential symptoms, which can be different for each person. The main motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease affect physical movement. Along with motor symptoms, the disease can have non-motor symptoms, ranging from depression and anxiety to hallucinations, memory problems, and dementia.
Parkinson’s disease is difficult to diagnose as there are no specific tests to confirm the disease, and the clinician, usually a neurologist, relies on multiple ways to assess its nature and progression. Parkinson’s symptoms also overlap with those of other neurodegenerative diseases, which makes the diagnosis even more complicated.
Living With Parkinson's
Parkinson’s disease poses daily challenges, but some adjustments can help patients to better manage their disease and maintain their quality of life. Aids and mobility devices can assist patients in managing everyday activities, while a healthy diet and exercise may be beneficial in easing some symptoms. Recording observations on disease progression and symptoms in a diary also can be helpful.