Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological condition affecting movements we take for granted such as swallowing, walking and talking. Symptoms include repetitive shaking, slow movements and muscle stiffness.
After Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson's is the most common neuro-degenerative disease. It occurs through the loss of nerve cells that produce the chemical dopamine, a neurotransmitter which allows messages to be sent to the parts of the brain that co-ordinate movement. With the loss of dopamine-producing cells, these parts of the brain are no longer able to function normally.
The first symptom of Parkinson's disease is often a trembling or shaking of a limb, especially when the body is at rest. This tremor often starts on one side of the body, frequently in one hand. Other symptoms include a shuffling gait and a stooped posture. The severity of symptoms tends to worsen over time.
Parkinson's is usually diagnosed after the age of 60, although one in 20 people diagnosed are under the age of 40 at the time of diagnosis.
It affects both sexes, although statistics indicate men are slightly more likely to develop the condition. The risk of getting the disease increases with age, with symptoms usually appearing in those who are over 50 years of age. However, younger people can also be diagnosed.
There are no precise figures on people with the disease in New Zealand. It affects about one in 500 people; approximately one percent of people over 60 have Parkinson's.
Currently there is no cure for Parkinson's, but much can be done to relieve symptoms, particularly in the early stages. Treatments include drugs to boost dopamine activity or mimic its effects.
Levodopa, which is converted to dopamine in the brain, can be used to replace the missing dopamine in the brain. Side-effects, however, especially with prolonged use, can be a problem. Non-drug treatments are also used, including occupational therapy and physiotherapy.