If someone you love has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you might have been left with more questions than answers: what exactly are the symptoms? How does the illness progress? How much care will my loved one need? 

Care In Kent’s blog series on Parksinson’s Disease takes a closer look at the condition, including what it is like to live with the illness, how it can affect those we love, and what help and support is available for those who are caring for someone who has Parkinson’s.

So, what exactly is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s is a condition which causes parts of the brain to become progressively damaged over time. People can live with Parkinson’s for a long time, and their symptoms can vary in severity.

There are three main symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease:

Tremors; an involuntary shaking of parts of the body. This is probably the symptom that is most associated with the disease, and is the easiest to recognise.

Stiffness and inflexibility of the muscles

Slow Movement

There is also a wide range of secondary symptoms that someone who is living with Parkinson’s might experience, such as:

Problems with balance
Loss of sense of smell 
Memory loss

Anyone suffering from any or all of these symptoms should make an appointment to see their GP so that they can investigate further. 

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain called ‘substantia nigra’. This cell-loss leads to a reduction of dopamine – a chemical that is vital for regulating bodily movements. 

Although no one can be sure what  causes this loss of nerve cells, experts generally agree that it is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. 1 in 500 people are affected by Parkinson’s Disease, with symptoms most likely to develop in those over 50, with men more likely to get the illness than women.

Diagnosing Parkingson’s

Unfortunately there isn’t a test that can conclusively show that someone has Parkinson’s, and so a diagnosis is based on your symptoms and a detailed physical examination, as well as taking your medical history into account. If your GP indeed suspects that you have Parkinson, you will be referred to a specialist, for example:

A neurologist, who specialties in conditions of the brain and nervous system
A geriatrician, who specialises in conditions that affect older people

If a person is experiencing two of the three main symptoms, Parksinson’s is the likely diagnosis. It can be difficult news to receive, both for the person who has been diagnosed, and those around them. 

How Is Parkinson’s Treated?

Unfortunately there is no cure for Parkinson’s Disease, but there are treatments available that reduce the main symptoms of the illness and help patients maintain quality of life for as long as possible, such as:

Physiotherapy and occupational therapy
Brain surgery (in some cases)

In the early stages of Parkinson’s, your loved one might not need any treatments at all, as the symptoms generally start off quite mild. Regular appointments with a specialist will be needed so that their condition can be monitored. 

What Is The Long-Term Outlook For Someone Who Is Living With Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s is a progressive illness with symptoms that will get worse over time. This can make it increasingly difficult to perform everyday tasks without help. 

Some sufferers don’t respond well to treatment, and instead of only experiencing mild to moderate disability, they could be much more severely affected. Although Parkinson’s isn’t a direct cause of death, it is a condition that can put the body under huge strain, making some people much more vulnerable to life-threatening conditions. 

Thankfully, advances in treatment means that people who are living with Parkinson’s have a near-normal life expectancy, and knowing all you can about the condition is the best way to support and care for a loved one who has been diagnosed.