World Parkinson’s Day: The second most common age-related neurodegenerative illness

Parkinson's starts with a side of the body & spreads, with the initial side always remaining more distressed.

11th April every year is an important date. It commemorates World Parkinson's Day — a day to raise awareness, and educate people about Parkinson’s disease (PD), the second most common age-related neurodegenerative disorder.

With 10 million people globally suffering from this disease, it is said to affect men 1.5 times more than women, according to Parkinson’s Foundation. The day also marks the birthday of James Parkinson, an English surgeon who recognized this medical condition in an Essay on the Shaking Palsy in 1817.

Who does Parkinson's affect? What are its symptoms?

Since Parkinson's is an age-related disease, it usually occurs around 60 years, though it may even be seen at 40.

The initial symptom of this disease is slowing down of a person. As it involves the brain cells that help in motor functions of the body, it gradually spreads and affects other parts of the body. However, the symptoms — motor and non-motor.

Here some of the motor symptoms someone with Parkinson's' can expect:

  • Tremors in hands
  • Difficulty while walking
  • Stiffness in movement
  • Less to no facial expression
  • Not swinging of the arms while walking
  • Change in speech (soft, slur) and writing (becomes small to sometimes illegible)

Another important aspect of these indicators is that they start with one side of the body and spread progressively — the initial side always remaining more distressed than the other.

Here some of the non-motor symptoms someone with Parkinson's' can expect:

  • Memory disorder
  • Depression
  • Impaired Vision
  • Fidgety leg

If a person notices the understated initial signs, consulting a doctor is highly recommended. An early diagnosis can help to develop treatment strategies that can delay the spread and maintain a high quality of life longer.

World Parkinson’s Day: The second most common age-related neurodegenerative illness

A woman with Parkinson's.

How is Parkinson's caused?

PD has no specific cause, as far as scientists know, and could affect anyone. But there are some factors that are linked to it:

  • Genes. According to research, specific genetic mutations can lead to this disease. But these are uncommon and account for a small amount of the cases.
  • Environmental. Exposure to certain toxins or unhealthy environmental surroundings may enhance the threat of PD. However, this reason has no conclusive evidence.

Some of the natural factors it is linked to are:

  • Age. Being an age-related disorder, post 60 years, anyone can be at a risk
  • Family history. In case someone in the first-degree relatives is living with it, then the likelihood of it passing on is slightly more
  • Job. People working in farming or factory jobs, can get this disease because of contact with toxic chemicals

How is Parkinson's diagnosed?

PD has no lab tests. The neurologist analysis it after going through the medical history of a person and a neurological examination reports.

Some doctors may sometimes prescribe imaging tests like MRI, CT scans, and ultrasound of the brain, but these are not for detecting PD particularly, but to rule out other neurological problems.

Representational image. Image courtesy: NCL UK

Representational image. Image courtesy: NCL UK

How is Parkinson's treated?

Parkinson’s Disease has no permanent cure but, medication can control the symptoms.

  • Medicines can help in increasing the levels of dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain. This then stimulates the low-active parts which result in the person performing an activity nearly normally. These drugs have some physiological to psychological side-effects.
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical treatment that involves implanting electrodes into a definite part of the brain. These are connected to a generator implanted near the chest that sends electrical pulses to the brain and thus, reduces the symptoms of the disease. But this surgery involves risks and is not suited for all ages and stages. Therefore, in a breakthrough for patients suffering from this illness in India, a drug called Apomorphine that was earlier available only in the West is now obtainable as an infusion pump and injection. It helps in controlling many symptoms of the disease which then results in a drastic improvement in several cases. The drug, for now, is available between ₹475 and ₹950, per day for a 30 and 60 mg usage. However, it should only be taken after a thorough check-up and doctor prescription.
  • Research is also taking place in the area of stem cell technologies for treating Parkinson’s Disease. In this, transplantable dopamine-producing nerve cells could potentially control the disease for life. But then it is in its initial stage.

Can Parkinson's be prevented?

Without a certain cause, prevention is usually not a possibility. Since this disease has emerged more because of an increase in life expectancy, the possible prevention as per research is performing regular aerobic exercise, drinking caffeinated beverages -tea, coffee, etc., green tea too is said to reduce its risk.

In India, though the incidence rate of Parkinson’s Disease is relatively low approximately, 400 per 1,00,000 of the population, support and care for people with it is still necessary.  Certain lifestyles changes like eating right, exercising, etc. for everyone living with or without it can help in delaying and most times preventing it too.

The author is a Senior consultant in the medical team at

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