Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a common neurodegenerative disease of the elderly, second only to Alzheimer’s disease in occurrence. It is estimated to affect one out of every 100 persons age 60 and up, and approximately 1.5 million people in the United States. Previously called the shaking palsy due to the frequent presence of tremors, PD is a brain disorder that affects body movement. It occurs when the portion of the brain responsible for producing dopamine—a neurotransmitter that allows the brain to communicate with the body to produce movement—dies or becomes impaired. In PD, the lack of dopamine disrupts this communication and instead of fluid, purposeful movement, the PD patient experiences difficulties initiating movement coupled with balance and gait disturbance.
The symptoms of PD include tremors (approximately 70% of people experience this), bradykinesia or slow movements, rigidity and postural instability. The secondary motor symptoms can include the following, although not everyone experiences all of these:
Stooped posture or the tendency to lean forward, dystonia, impaired fine motor dexterity and motor coordination, loss of arm swing, speech problems, drooling, loss of facial expression, difficulty swallowing, micrographia (small, cramped handwriting), pain/muscle cramps, and sexual dysfunction.
Other, less apparent non-motor symptoms can include dementia and confusion, sleep disturbances, constipation, urinary problems, depression, anxiety, skin problems, fatigue, and compulsive behaviors. Those suffering from Parkinson’s disease can also experience low blood pressure.
Eventually, the most basic daily routines are affected by the disease—from socializing with friends and enjoying normal relationships with family members to earning a living and taking care of a home. Medications are used to control symptoms by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. There is also surgical intervention through implantation of the DBS, deep brain stimulation. It is Providence’s mission to offer the most compassionate centered care incorporating the patients and families goals.