Man assisting elderly woman

April is National Parkinson’s Awareness Month: What you need to know

Few people give Parkinson’s disease a second thought until it affects someone they love. In fact, only after a diagnosis is made do most people even ask, “What is Parkinson’s disease?” Yet once signs of this neurological disorder move from the brain to the body, the condition quickly becomes impossible to ignore.

Each April, Parkinson’s disease moves to top of mind as efforts to raise awareness about Parkinson’s disease causes, treatments, and support shed light on this condition that affects the mind and movement. While April may be designated as National Parkinson’s Awareness Month, it’s important to realize that every month of the year is Parkinson’s awareness month for the thousands of people and families whose lives are affected. So make the most of April by learning more about the disease and how to provide both help and hope.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder of the central nervous system that affects the brain and the body. The condition causes neurons in a specific region of the brain to break down and die in a process known as neurodegeneration. Problems arise when some of these neurons are in charge of producing dopamine, which serves as a neurotransmitter to pass messages from the brain to parts of the body that control muscle movement, coordination, balance, and mood. As the brain’s dopamine levels fall, more and more symptoms arise.

Understanding the signs

Parkinson’s disease symptoms typically start gradually. At first, you may notice a slight tremor in the hand or an occasional lack of balance. Then, talking may become difficult and walking may be a challenge. Over time, the symptoms of Parkinson’s progressively get worse and become more frequent, with sufferers experiencing—and families noticing—the following problems:

  • Tremors
  • Slowed movement
  • Stiff muscles
  • Impaired balance
  • Reduced sense of coordination
  • Poor posture
  • Difficulty walking
  • Speech problems
  • Mood changes
  • Sleep issues

Causes of the effects

Today, Parkinson’s disease causes remain unknown. Yet research continues into the reasons why neurons fail to function properly and result in a debilitating loss of movement, coordination, and quality of life. Fortunately, progress is being made and scientists believe that a combination of genetic factors, environmental triggers, and lifestyle influences may be responsible. The interaction of these three important elements may ultimately determine whether a person will develop the disease.

Hope for healing

Parkinson’s itself isn’t fatal, but it does have a considerable impact on a person’s quality of life and may lead to serious complications over time. Currently, there isn’t a cure for the condition, but there are Parkinson’s disease treatment options that may help to reduce symptoms and make life much more comfortable. The first step to living well and feeling well with Parkinson’s is working closely with your SignatureMD-affiliated doctor and following their recommendations, which may include one, or a combination, of the following:

  • Medication: The most common Parkinson’s disease treatment consists of medications that are prescribed to help with various symptoms. Since most symptoms result from a loss of dopamine, these medications are designed to either temporarily replenish dopamine levels or imitate the actions of dopamine in the brain. They may help to reduce tremors, decrease muscle rigidity, and improve physical coordination. In order to find the ideal combination of medications, it’s common for doctors to prescribe a variety to be taken at staggered times to help manage different symptoms.
  • Physical therapy: Since Parkinson’s revolves around involuntary movements and loss of balance and coordination, the purpose of physical therapy is to regain the ease of movement through exercises that may help to improve or slow the symptoms.
  • Surgery: Most people can maintain a good quality of life with medication or physical therapy, but once the disease worsens, these may no longer be effective. This is when surgery may be considered. Your doctor will let you know if this could be right for you.
  • Healthy habits: Beyond medical treatment options, making healthy lifestyle changes may help to ease symptoms. They include eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep. It can also be helpful to take some safety precautions to make daily living easier, such as installing grab rails, using proper lighting, and keeping walkways free from clutter.

During National Parkinson’s Awareness Month, your help can provide hope for improving the lives of people with the disease. Give your support by spreading the word on social media to boost awareness, attending events in your community, and joining fundraising efforts. Simply showing that you care can help to move the world closer to a cure.