Understanding the Basics of Parkinson’s Disease (PD)
Eugene - Springfield, Oregon
The cause of Parkinson’s is largely unknown. It is a progressive disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain responsible for body movement.
How Neurons Work and how Parkinson’s Disease Affects the Brain
Nerve cells, or neurons, are responsible for sending and receiving nerve impulses or messages between the body and the brain. Imagine an electrical circuit made up of numerous wires connected in such a way that when a light switch is flipped, a light bulb “lights up”. Similarly, a neuron that is excited will transmit its energy to neurons that are next to it.
Information from one neuron flows to another neuron across a small gap called a synapse (SIN-aps). At the synapse, electrical signals are translated into chemical signals in order to cross the gap. Once on the other side, the signal becomes electrical again.
Dopamine is the chemical messenger in the brain that helps the electrical signal transmit across the synapse gap. It’s stored in sacks at the end of nerve cells on either side of the gap. The dopamine molecules cross the synapse and fit into special receptors on the receiving cell, which then is stimulated to pass the message on, sending signals that control muscle movement and other functions.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects nerve cells in deep part of the brain called the basal ganglia and the substantia nigra. Nerve cells in the substantia nigra produce the neurotransmitter dopamine and are responsible for relaying messages that plan and control body movement. For reasons not yet understood, the dopamine-producing nerve cells of the substantia nigra begin to die off in some individuals. When 80 percent of dopamine is lost, Parkinson’s Disease symptoms occur.
The most common motor related symptoms of Parkinson’s are:
- Slow movements
- Freezing and inability to initiate movement
- Shuffling gait
- Stooped posture
- Rest tremor
- Small handwriting
- Quiet voice
- Decrease facial expression
Non-motor related symptoms of Parkinson’s:
Some of these symptoms may predate the disease onset by up to twenty years
- Loss senses of smell
- Sleep problems
- Vivid dreams and dream enacting
- Urinary problems
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swing in blood pressure
- Cognitive impairment
- Sexual dysfunction
Treatment of Parkinson's Disease
Medications are used either alone or in combination and need to be taken several times a day as each dose wears off before the next dose is taken.
The medications address the problem of decreased dopamine in several ways:
Help conserve dopamine in the brain
Help increase release of dopamine
Introduce agents that mimic dopamine
When Parkinson’s is not easily controlled with medications a pump that delivers the medications directly to the intestines may be considered.
Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) Surgery
DBS is used when medications fail to control the fluctuation of the symptoms or when side effects of medications are intolerable. Electrodes send electrical signals to specific areas of the brain responsible for body movement. The electrodes are controlled by a stimulator placed under the skin in the chest area. The electrical pulses sent from the stimulator through the electrodes block the nerve signals in the brain that cause the movement disorder symptom.
Exercise and Parkinson's Disease
There are several types of exercises and physical activities that have been proven to help decrease, slow and even reverse the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Any exercises done on a regular basis, such as daily walks, dancing or workouts in the gym, are beneficial. Here are some ideas:
Rock Steady Boxing™
Rock Steady Boxing™ classes, designed specifically to help people with Parkinson's disease, improve mobility and dexterity. The program’s core is based on connection, consistency and compassion and, combined with the skills boxing develops - agility, speed, muscular endurance, accuracy, balance, hand-eye coordination, footwork and overall strength - it’s an incredible stress-reliever, confidence-booster, fun activity.
Delay the Disease™
A fitness program designed to empower people with Parkinson’s disease by targeting their symptoms and optimizing their physical functions. This effective fitness program focuses on creating new pathways and new habits to fight the ‘old habits’ of Parkinson’s (small movement, rigidity, freezing, shuffled gait etc.) , combining physical exercise with cognitive and multi-tasking exercises.
Dance for Parkinson’s
Dance classes engage the participants’ minds and bodies and create an enjoyable, social environment that emphasizes dancing, rather than therapy. Dance involves elements of balance, sequencing and rhythm to address Parkinson’s symptoms.
A Home to Fit You is experienced in advising clients on which care facilities are best suited to handling residents with Parkinson’s disease. Let us share success stories of how a background in Physical Therapy is essential in understanding a Parkinson’s disease patient’s care needs.