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Guide by Condition: Parkinson's Disease

Posted by Mike Phipps on December 10, 2018

Understanding and living with Parkinson’s disease

Guide by Condition: Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition with physical symptoms that can limit mobility and make daily tasks such as eating become difficult. Although there is currently no cure, the right support and treatment can help someone with Parkinson’s manage their symptoms and live an independent and healthy lifestyle.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Around 145,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It is a progressive neurological condition which is caused when the brain doesn’t have enough of the chemical dopamine because some of the nerve cells that make it have died. There are 3 main symptoms of Parkinson’s which are tremors, slow movement and muscle stiffness along with other symptoms.

The term Parkinsonism is a term that covers a range of conditions that have similar symptoms to Parkinson’s. The most common form of Parkinsonism is Idiopathic Parkinson’s (also known as Parkinson's) which means the cause of the condition is unknown. Other types include:

  • Vascular Parkinsonism - which affects people with restricted blood supply to the brain, with common symptoms such as incontinence, memory loss and walking difficulties.
  • Drug-Induced Parkinsonism - a small number of people (7%) develop symptoms following treatment with particular medication, most commonly from Neuroleptic drugs which are used to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, as they block the action of dopamine. However, most people will recover from this in a matter of months, often hours or days, after stopping dosage of the drug that caused it.
  • Multiple System Atrophy - causes stiffness and slowing of movement, along with other symptoms such as incontinence, difficulty swallowing and dizziness.
  • Progressive Supranuclear Palsy - which affects eye movement, speech, swallowing as well as balance and movement.
  • Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus - symptoms mainly affect the lower half of the body including walking difficulties, incontinence and memory problems.

Raising awareness for Parkinson’s disease

Awareness of Parkinson’s is often covered in media with its profile being raised over the past few decades from the likes of celebrities such as Muhammad Ali and Michael J.Fox being diagnosed with the disease. Fox was diagnosed at age 30 and began to use his status in the public eye to raise awareness around the young-onset of Parkinson’s. In 2000 he founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research and continues to raise funds towards prevention, treatment and a cure. One of the first to begin raising awareness of the disease was legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, who was diagnosed shortly after he retired from his career, in 1984, established the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center for movement disorders along with developing a National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, which serves as a resource center for Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, including Huntington’s disease, for both the patients and their families.

Treatment & mobility aids for Parkinson’s disease

Drug treatment is currently the main method used to control the symptoms of Parkinson’s, they aim to increase the level of dopamine that reaches the brain and stimulate the parts of the brain where dopamine works. The treatments help to manage symptoms, but there is currently no cure.

Therapies can also help people with Parkinson’s. Different therapies appeal to different people, so if you are currently looking to try a new therapy, talk to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse as they may be able to refer you to a therapist who is specially trained to provide advice on recommended exercises to keep you active and healthy. There are also many support agencies also available that can be tailored to your needs.

Along with treatment, therapies and support, mobility aids can also provide independence and daily assistance for anyone living with Parkinson’s. Medication aids can help you stay organised, even on-the-go, with reminders and easy to use cases for taking medication. Dressing aids and adaptive clothing can help provide assistance with your daily routine, while a bed rope ladder can provide extra grip and assistance getting out of bed.  

Specialist drinkware is designed to help anyone with difficulty swallowing, allowing the user to drink easily and independently. Kettle tippers, good grip food preparation gadgets, as well as trays and trolleys, can also aid around the kitchen for people with tremors or muscle stiffness.

If you have symptoms that affect your ability to move around the home, grab rails are a common home adaptation that can provide support while navigating around the home independently. Walking sticks and rollators help to provide balance and extra support while out and about. Finding the right stick for you and which type of rollator to buy doesn’t have to be tricky, our useful guides can help you find the right one for you. A personal alarm or monitor can give peace of mind to yourself and your family if you are at risk of falling. Simple GPS trackers and systems help to alert your nearest and dearest in case of emergency.

Bathing aids such as bath seats or shower boards can provide support, allowing the user to remain independent while getting clean, helping you to get in and out with less risk of falling. Raised toilet seats, frames and rails can make sitting and standing to use the loo less of a strain.

More information and support

If you have been diagnosed or care for someone with Parkinson’s, you can find more help and information from the many dedicated organisations and charities that support those affected by the disease: