Saint Vincent Hospital Acknowledges Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month

Apr 28, 2023

WORCESTER, Mass. – Saint Vincent Hospital acknowledges Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. If you or a family member have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, you are not alone. As many as one million people in the United States and an estimated 10 million worldwide live with Parkinson's.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson's disease is a central nervous system disorder that causes a gradual loss of motor control. Although the condition is common in elderly adults, it can also occur in young adults. With Parkinson's, symptoms are caused by the gradual degeneration of nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls movement. According to the Parkinson's Foundation, as many as one million individuals in the U.S. live with Parkinson's disease. This number is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2030.

Causes and Risk Factors

Parkinson's is thought to be caused by the deterioration of nerve cells in the brain. When the nerve cells function normally, they produce an important brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine acts as a chemical messenger in the brain. Nerve cell damage in the brain causes dopamine levels to drop, causing an inability to control body movements.

Some scientists believe that certain toxins in the environment may cause the condition. Researchers have also discovered that the condition may be genetic or inherited from a family member. Other causes are thought to include:

  • Medications, especially drugs that treat major psychiatric disorders
  • Head trauma, such as injuries sustained in combative sports such as boxing or other contact sports
  • Some neurodegenerative disorders
  • Certain types of brain tumors
  • Metabolic disorders

Symptoms of Parkinson's disease

During the early stages of Parkinson's, the condition develops slowly, often with a barely noticeable tremor in one hand. People who have been diagnosed with the condition often experience symptoms differently. While some individuals have tremor as their primary symptom, others may have difficulty with their balance. For some people, the disease progresses more quickly than for others.

In later stages of the disease, an individual with Parkinson's may be able to live alone but completing daily tasks may become more difficult. It's important to note that the condition does not progress in the same way for everyone. Although tremors are common symptoms, the condition also causes these symptoms:

  • Slowed movement
  • Stiffness
  • Rigid muscles
  • Poor balance and posture
  • Dementia

Diagnosing Parkinson's

There is no specific test that provides doctors with a definitive diagnosis. Your health care provider will take detailed notes about your medical history and perform a thorough physical and neurological examination.

Your primary care doctor may refer you to a neurologist if you have Parkinson's Disease. A neurologist has specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system.

Treatment options

Although there is currently no cure for Parkinson's, treatment options include medication, physical therapy and surgical therapy. Other treatments include lifestyle modifications, such as stress reduction, getting more rest and increasing physical activity.

Dr. Gary Keilson, Chief of Neurology at Saint Vincent Hospital explains, “Because Parkinson's is related to low dopamine amounts in the brain, the goal of most medication is to improve dopamine levels or mimic the action of dopamine. These drugs help to reduce muscle rigidity, improve coordination of movement and lessen tremors.”

Some patients are unable to obtain sufficient relief through medications or physical measures. For these individuals, doctors may recommend deep brain stimulation (DBS). During this procedure, a surgeon implants electrodes into a specific part of your brain. The electrodes are designed to send electrical pulses to your brain, and these pulses may reduce your symptoms.

Living with Parkinson's

Some physicians believe that changing your lifestyle can help manage the challenges associated with Parkinson's. Staying active and doing consistent and safe exercises can help you sustain your daily activities. It's also important to take precautions in your home if you have difficulty with your walking and balance.

Creating a safe home environment is critical. For example, making modifications in your home can help you stay safe. Having grab bars and a safety seat in the bathtub can help you stay safe while bathing.

To schedule an appointment with a Neurologist at MetroWest Medical Center, please visit our website.

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