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Parkinsons Awareness Month

Many times we watch our aging loved one’s deteriorating state and think they are just “getting older” with unsteady hands or stiffness in muscles. In actuality, it may be much more. Parkinson’s, the neurodegenerative disorder, affects hundreds of thousands of people across the United States, mainly those in the older population. It is characterized with slowness of movement, walking difficulties, changes in speech (such as a lower speaking voice) in addition to the common tremor (shakiness) even when at rest. Parkinson’s also can have many non-motor symptoms like sleep problems, issues with his or her sense of smell, cognitive issues and weight loss.

While the exact cause of Parkinson’s is not known, it could be a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Essentially, Parkinson’s is the result of a gradual die-off of neurons (cells responsible for transmitting information in a certain part of the brain) with the result being lower levels of Dopamine, a necessary chemical for proper information transmission between brain cells. While the causes of Parkinson’s is not understood by science, there are ways for the condition to be slowed so that the affected person can still have a good quality of life.

There are options available to those affected with Parkinson’s. Normally, medication is one of the first ways to control it’s symptoms. Often Levodopa is one of the first to be used while dopamine agonists (chemicals that activate dopamine receptors in the brain) will likely be used after Lovodopa becomes ineffective. In extreme cases, brain surgery may be an option for those who have not responded well to drug treatments.

Diet plays also plays a very important role for those with Parkinson’s. Diets low in added sugar, processed foods and alcohol will help give your loved one a better quality of life after diagnosis. Be sure to also include more vegetables and healthy protein like fish and eggs. Swallowing may become more difficult as Parkinson’s progresses so it is very important to make sure your senior has foods that are easy to swallow. Talk to your doctor about any depression or anxiety-related conditions that may pop up as they may be a result of Parkinson’s. Be sure to also talk to your loved one’s doctor about the patient one should take his or her medication (empty stomach vs. full stomach) as certain drugs may cause an upset stomach as a side effect.

While Parkinson’s may not have a specific cure, medication, a proper diet and doctor-approved exercise will likely increase quality of life for those affected for years to come. For more information, be sure to look at Parkinson.org, apdaparkinson.org or on Webmd.com.