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An overview of Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s Awareness Week, organised by UK charity Parkinson’s UK recently took place (11th – 17th April 2011). It is designed to raise awareness of the condition and reassure and support people living with the condition that there is help out there for those who need it.

Indeed, one person in every 500 people have Parkinson’s disease, equating to about 120,000 people living with the condition in the UK, and one person every hour is told that they have the disease. Parkinson’s usually affects those aged over 50, although one in 20 with Parkinson’s is under 40 [Source: Parkinson’s UK].

Although the causes of Parkinson’s are still unknown, we do know that people with the disease lack a chemical called dopamine because some of the nerve cells in their brain have died. This lack of dopamine makes sufferers move more slowly, and the loss of nerve cells causes the symptoms of Parkinson’s to appear.

Parkinson’s disease can cause those affected by the condition and their families a great deal of distress. However, help is on hand. The first step is to ensure that you are properly informed about the disease.

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition. That means that its symptoms begin slowly and develop gradually.  In fact, it can take years for these symptoms to become problematic. Early symptoms of the disease include feelings of weakness and fatigue, poor hand coordination and a feeling of shaking in the arms.

These symptoms change as the disease develops, meaning that the drugs and treatments used on the sufferer will also change. There may be more medication to take as the sufferer’s problems with movement develop. As yet, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, although certain medication can alleviate the symptoms.

Those in a more advanced stage of the disease may also experience non-motor symptoms, including sleep difficulties, depression, anxiety, excessive sweating, bladder and bowel problems, saliva control difficulties and memory problems.

It is essential to plan for long-term care for somebody living with Parkinson’s because its symptoms can make living an independent life problematic. Individuals can however live happily at home with support from a trained professional carer, who can ensure that they take their medication on time and can get to their therapeutic treatments, doctors and outpatient appointments.

It is important to remember that it is possible to enjoy a good quality of life with Parkinson’s, especially with the help and support of a live-in carer. Parkinson’s does not cause death in and of itself and the average life span of those it affects is only five years below average. It’s about providing the right level of support, whilst promoting an individual’s independence.