About Parkinson’s Disease
Learn more about Parkinson’s Disease, and Why the ASCEND Study is So Important
Parkinson’s Disease is a chronic neurologic condition affecting the brain and nerves, causing unintended or uncontrollable movements. Parkinson’s Disease causes a gradual loss of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that affects the brain’s ability to control movement and coordination.1 It is estimated that about 6 million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s Disease, with over a million of those being in the US.2 The most common age for onset of Parkinson’s Disease is approximately 60 years old, but symptoms can occur much earlier, and some patients are diagnosed even younger than age 40.2 Parkinson’s Disease appears to be hereditary in some cases, but many cases do not appear to be genetically linked, and it is now believed to be caused by both genetics and environmental variables.1
Typically, symptoms start gradually and get worse as time goes on and the disease progresses. They also often begin on one side of the body and remain worse on that side even when both sides are affected. Common symptoms include tremor that occurs while the body part is at rest (most commonly affects the hand/fingers), slowed movements (bradykinesia), muscle stiffness, balance difficulties and stooped posture, and decreased ability to perform simple, unconscious movements like blinking, smiling, or swinging arms while walking. Speech changes may also occur, as well as difficulties writing and with chewing and/or swallowing. As time goes on, individuals with Parkinson’s Disease may experience other types of symptoms, both motor and non-motor, including depression, urinary/bowel changes, and sleep disturbances.3
Parkinson’s Disease is classified into 5 main stages of how it affects an individual. Stage 1 encompasses mild symptoms, such as mild tremor and/or movement issues (like the swinging of arms while walking). At this stage, they do not interfere with daily activities, and occur on only one side of the body. There may also be mild changes in posture, walking, and facial expressions. Stage 2 is when symptoms start to get worse; tremor, muscle rigidity, and movement difficulties affecting both sides of the body. Walking problems and posture changes may be more apparent, the individual is still able to live alone, but daily tasks are more difficult and take more time to complete. Stage 3 is considered mid-stage, and the common indication is loss of balance. Falls become more common as motor symptoms become worse. An individual is still physically able to be independent, but daily activities become more restricted. By Stage 4, symptoms are fully developed and cause severe disability. Individuals may still walk and stand without support, but typically use an assistive device for safety. Activities of daily life cannot be done independently and living alone is no longer possible. At Stage 5, the disease is most debilitating. Walking or standing is typically no longer possible due to leg stiffness and patients are often bedridden or bound to a wheelchair. At this stage, patients require full-time care.4
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Parkinson’s Disease. Current treatments focus on improving symptoms and quality of life, and are typically done via oral, inhaled, or infused medications. These can work by increasing production of dopamine that is otherwise reduced in Parkinson’s Disease, mimicking the effect of dopamine in the body, or trying to prevent the breakdown of dopamine, in addition to other mechanisms of action.3 There are also surgical options that can be more invasive. Clinical research studies are also prevalent, working to find more effective ways to manage Parkinson’s Disease.
Refer a Friend
Do you know someone age 30 or older who has Parkinson’s Disease? They may be eligible to participate in the ASCEND study. Consider sharing information with them about how they can learn more.