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Parkinson’s Awareness Month
April 7, 2022
April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month – an opportunity to shed some light on the disease, its symptoms, and why it is so gravely important to uplift those who battle with this illness every day. There is currently no known cure for Parkinson’s Disease (PD), but those diagnosed still have an opportunity to live a long, fulfilling life. According to Parkinson’s UK, PD is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease, and early detection is key in maintaining an increased quality of life and reducing complications as it progresses.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

PD is a long-term disorder impacting the motor system. According to Stanford Medicine, PD was first described in 1817 by English physician James Parkinson as a “shaking palsy.” Resulting from degeneration of the central nervous system, which controls most body and mind functions, PD is a progressive neurological disorder caused by a loss of dopamine-producing cells in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra.

Substantia Nigra

“Region in the midbrain that is considered part of the basal ganglia.”

Treatment options for PD often vary because the occurrence and progression of symptoms are different from person to person. PD is a rather diverse disease, but some of the most common symptoms, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation, include tremors (involuntary shaking), bradykinesia (slowness of movement), limb rigidity (stiffness), and gait and balance problems. 

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

Prevalence of Parkinson's Disease in the United States
The exact cause of PD remains largely unknown, and while the disease itself is not fatal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rated complications from PD as the 14th cause of death in the United States. Presently, PD affects about one million people in the United States and ten million worldwide – which equals about 1 in 500 people. While studies are still ongoing, some scientists believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors is the cause of PD. Based on these studies, researchers have found genetics to cause about 10 to 15 percent of all Parkinson’s. Other potential factors leading to the development of PD include traumatic brain injury or even exposure to certain pesticides and toxins. 

Are Tremors The Only Sign of Parkinson’s?

Much like Alzheimer’s disease, those with PD will first start to experience symptoms later in the disease’s progression because a significant amount of the neurons in the substantia nigra have already been lost. In some cases, it may even take months to years for someone to receive a PD diagnosis because their early signs and symptoms are either mild or go unnoticed. Part of this may be due to the assumption that tremors, or shaking, are the only tell-tale sign of having PD.

While many PD symptoms are related to movement, the signs to watch for also include those unrelated to motor control. In fact, the Parkinson’s Foundation notes that people with PD are often more impacted by their non-motor symptoms, which include:

Apathy

Depression

Constipation

Sleep behavior disorders

Loss of sense of smell

Cognitive Impairment

Finding The Right Care For Parkinson’s

Given its wide range of symptoms, treatment plans for PD will vary from one person to the next. PD is a chronic and lifelong battle, but there is still hope beyond diagnosis. The first step in ensuring a life lived well is creating a support system and establishing a plan with the appropriate healthcare providers: 

Neurology:

PD can sometimes be challenging to diagnose, especially because its symptoms might mimic other disorders. A neurologist can examine current symptoms, compare medical and family histories, and rule out other conditions by ordering specific imaging tests, such as CT or MRI scans.

 

Occupational Therapy (OT):

An OT can help identify strategies that will allow the person living with PD to continue doing important activities independently. The OT will work on setting goals based on symptoms, disease progression, and lifestyle, then help to find ways to put those goals into action. 

 

Support Groups:

The journey through PD is long and difficult, but those impacted need not walk it alone. For the person living with PD and their caregiver, finding support groups (like the ones offered at Oakwood Creative Care) is vital in maintaining an increased quality of life. Don’t be afraid to reach out and create a network with those who both understand and can offer advice through navigating the day-to-day struggles that arise after diagnosis.

 

Exercise:

Implementing a routine wellness and exercise program may help combat physical challenges associated with PD. Studies have found exercise to significantly improve specific PD symptoms, including cognitive function, depression, sleep, motor performance, and drug efficacy. In addition, some wellness and exercise engagement programs, like Engaging at Home, can be implemented right from the comfort of one’s own home!

 

The effects of Parkinson’s Disease can vary from person to person. Unfortunately, families are often encouraged to place their loved ones in long-term care facilities where they’re offered little to no hope for the road ahead. Oakwood Creative Care is making a difference by ensuring loved ones living with Parkinson’s have the opportunity to experience a life full of dignity and purpose beyond their diagnosis.

April is Parkinson's Awareness Month

Welcome

We're a nonprofit organization based in Mesa, Arizona with three senior day club locations (and a fourth on the way) which serve older adults with Alzheimer's, dementia, Parkinson's, and various other physical or cognitive challenges. Life does not end with a diagnosis. Our members continue to learn new skills, enjoy new discoveries, make friends, laugh, and live a joy-filled life. Our team of dementia experts lead support groups, events, classes, and private sessions with caregivers and families, guiding them on the best methods to care for their loved ones while also caring for themselves.


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