Receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (PD) can be shocking and unsettling. And while there are treatments, Parkinson’s is chronic and progressive and there is no known cure. In most cases, the cause is unknown. Symptoms vary widely. And there is no brain scan or blood test to definitively determine a diagnosis.
About 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with PD each year; men are 1.5 times more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than women, and age is the greatest risk factor.
Roughly 1 million Americans are living with this disease – perhaps one of the best known is actor Michael J. Fox, who started a foundation after his young-onset Parkinson’s diagnosis in 1991 at age 29. Other well-known public figures with PD include singer Linda Ronstadt, musician Ozzie Osbourne and civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson.
If you or someone you care about has recently been diagnosed with PD, you may have many questions: What is Parkinson’s disease? What causes Parkinson’s? Does Parkinson’s have disease stages? What are the disease symptoms, and what are the disease treatments? And possibly most important, how do you care for someone with Parkinson’s disease?
About Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinsons’ disease is a brain disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects movement. Essentially, the body doesn’t make enough dopamine, a neurotransmitter, or “chemical messenger” that’s responsible for normal body movements.
Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
The loss of brain cells that produce dopamine leads to motor issues, such as tremor, slowed movements and loss of balance and coordination. Because of these symptoms, Parkinson’s is called a “movement disorder,” but other non-movement symptoms can also be part of the disease. Those commonly include:
- Memory problems
- Depression and anxiety
- Sleep problems
- Personality issues
- Eye and vision problems
- Reduced sensitivity to odors or loss of smell
- Gastrointestinal issues such as constipation
- Urinary issues
Because Parkinson’s symptoms and progression vary from person to person, your doctor can’t predict which symptoms you may get, when you’ll get them, or how severe they may be. This can be frustrating for those who’ve been recently diagnosed, since there’s often no discernible pattern or prediction to form a shared experience with others with PD.
Parkinson’s Disease Causes
Researchers aren’t completely sure what causes Parkinson’s disease; it’s called an idiopathic disease, which means that its cause is unknown. Scientists do think it’s a mix of both environmental and genetic factors.
Genetics: Scientists estimate anywhere from 10% to 30% of PD’s risk is explained by genetics. It could be a mutation in a gene, or it could be hereditary.
Environmental factors: Researchers think PD could be caused by exposure to toxins like pesticides. Repeated head injuries may also play a role.
Parkinson’s Disease Stages
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, there are five recognized stages of Parkinson’s disease:
- Stage 1: Mild symptoms appear, but generally don’t interfere with daily activities.
- Stage 2: Symptoms—like tremors and walking problems—start getting worse.
- Stage 3: Considered mid-stage, loss of balance, falls and slowness of movements become more common.
- Stage 4: Symptoms are severe and limiting.
- Stage 5: This is considered the most debilitating stage, during which the person is unable to walk and may experience delusions.
Parkinson’s Disease Treatment
Because there is no cure, and because every person’s experience with the disease is so unique, there is no one Parkinson’s disease treatment plan that works for everyone. There’s also no treatment yet that can reverse, stop or slow the effects of PD.
However, thanks to increased funding and research efforts, advancements are continually being made toward better treatments and hopefully one day, a cure. Current treatments include:
- Medications for motor and non-motor symptoms
- Deep brain stimulation
- Focused ultrasound
- Lifestyle modifications like increased exercise and a healthy diet
Parkinson’s Disease Care
For the person with Parkinson’s disease, their need for care will evolve with the disease. Because PD is so complex, it often requires an interdisciplinary approach to care.
Typically, a care team would include these people:
- Movement disorder specialist
- Physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists
- Counselors and nutritionists
- Primary care provider
- Care partners, such as family, friends, a spouse or adult children
- Social worker
- The person with Parkinson’s disease
Possibly one of the most important members on a care team is the person with PD themselves. They can be their own strongest advocate, whether choosing treatments or deciding to participate in clinical trials. This person is in the driver’s seat.
Yet when the time comes to choose Parkinson’s disease care at a senior living community, the decision often falls to the caregiver. Experts agree that it’s important to balance the needs and wants of both the person with Parkinson’s and the caregiver.
There are numerous benefits to choosing a community like Saint Simeon’s that specializes in Parkinson’s care:
- Increased access to social activities
- Opportunities for involvement by on-site medical and rehab professionals
- A more accessible environment
- Available staff to provide assistance at all hours of the day and night
In the Tulsa area, Saint Simeon’s Senior Living Community provides all this, and much more.
Specialized Parkinson’s Disease Care at Saint Simeon’s
Saint Simeon’s is the only assisted living community in Oklahoma that offers Parkinson’s care. Our community is endorsed by the American Parkinson Disease Foundation – Oklahoma Chapter, the Parkinson Foundation of Oklahoma, and is a member of the Struther’s Parkinson’s Care Network.
Our staff receives comprehensive training and education on treatment methods specific to PD. Our program also has a strong emphasis on neurobic, which are exercises designed to create new neural pathways in the brain by using the senses in unconventional ways.