Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is the second most commonly diagnosed neurodegenerative condition behind Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it’s the 14th leading cause of death in America, and if that wasn’t scary enough, 64% of patients diagnosed die within six years and only 23% of patients living past the ten-year mark are free from dementia.
And you thought all you had to worry about was Alzheimer’s?
I was shocked to read these numbers because, while I am hearing about more and more people with Parkinson’s, I don’t see it all over the media or ribbon campaigns for it.
What Parkinson’s Looks Like In The Brain
PD is a progressive disease of the nervous system in which a person’s brain gradually stops producing the neurotransmitter, dopamine. With less and less dopamine, they lose the ability to regulate their movements, body, and emotions. The condition is associated with degeneration of the basal ganglia of the brain and alterations in other parts of the brain and neurotransmitters.
PD progresses slowly in most people with symptoms often taking years to develop, and many can live for years with the disease. PD itself isn’t fatal. However, complications from it are serious and can lead to death. The four main-movement related symptoms of Parkinson’s are:
- Tremor, which means shaking or trembling. Tremor may affect your hands, arms, or legs.
- Stiff muscles.
- Slow movement.
- Problems with balance or walking.
Many other problems, such as depression, constipation, sleep disturbances, and cognitive issues, may be present.
What Causes Parkinson’s?
Although it’s well-known that lack of dopamine causes the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, it’s not clear why the involved brain cells deteriorate. Genetic and pathological studies have revealed that various dysfunctional cellular processes, inflammation, and stress can all contribute to cell damage.
- Age is the largest risk factor for the development and progression of Parkinson’s disease. Most people who develop Parkinson’s disease are older than 60 years of age.
- Men are affected about 2 times more often than women.
- A small number of individuals are at increased risk because of a family history.
- Head trauma, illness, or exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides and herbicides may be a risk factor.
In Preventing Parkinson’s: How to Cut Your Risk by Strengthening Your Multiple Shields, Ben Weinstock PT, DPT, writes:
It appears that aging combined with certain genetic vulnerabilities and environmental exposures leads to PD in susceptible individuals. The combination of unhealthy vulnerabilities and exposures is referred to as multiple hits. These multiple hits may be: poor diet; poor sleep; head trauma; lack of exercise; stress; exposures to toxins; and other unhealthy factors.