Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month
Julie Aldridge, CRNP, ACHPN, DNP, Director of Education,
Alacare Home Health & Hospice
April is National Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. In recognition of this, I would like to share with you some “Fast Facts” about Parkinson’s disease that I learned from Dr. Rachel Dolhun at the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
At any one time 600,000 to over one million persons are living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) in the United States. Every year approximately 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s Disease is known to be “the old person’s disease,” yet the average age of diagnosis is 60. Parkinson’s Disease is a chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disease with a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years from the time of diagnosis. There is no specific test for PD. A medical history and physical exam provide the diagnosis. At diagnosis there must be two out of three movement disorders present:
stiffness, resting tremor and slowness of movement (which leads to difficulty walking and issues with balance). Constipation, urinary incontinence, sleep disturbances, orthostatic hypotension, cognitive changes, depression and loss of smell are common non-movement symptoms. Sometimes non-movement symptoms appear prior to movement disturbances.
Parkinson’s disease is caused by death of cells that produce Dopamine. Dopamine is a signaling chemical (neurotransmitter) that co-ordinates movement, motivation and reward. There are predictive factors in PD which include: genetics, exposure to pesticides, and head injury. At present there are no medications or treatments to slow or stop the progression of PD but medications can ease symptom burden.