Age-related diseases are a public health concern, as they may become relevant to any person. Not only are they mentally depressing, but they also cause bodies to limit movement and physical capabilities. However, the emergence of such conditions are especially worrying when there are no cures known for the disease. Parkinson’s disease is one such medical condition that causes health to deteriorate, without any real means to stop it from progressing. Overall, unknown causes, continuous deterioration, and absence of definitive treatment are the distinguishing characteristics of Parkinson’s disease.
At its core, Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. When doctors label a condition as progressive, they assume that it worsens as time goes on. The term “neurodegenerative” implies the loss of neurons in the brain. However, Parkinson’s disease does not affect each type of neuron there. Instead, it focuses on dopamine neurons, which are an essential component of humans’ ability to move. The more neurons are lost, the lesser the amount of dopamine in the brain is.
The first symptoms are shakiness and stiffness that appear as the person bends their body part. The third sign is the reduced speed necessary for executing all movements. The fourth movement symptom is the diminished ability to maintain balance. However, Parkinson’s disease has another set of symptoms that are not related to movement. First, psychiatric problems similar to depression are not unusual in patients with this condition. Second, patients may exhibit signs of memory loss and have difficulty concentrating their mind on a single issue. Third, Parkinson’s disease may lead to the deterioration of one’s sense of smell. Fourth, sleep disturbance is also a common problem. Naturally, these symptoms are not definitive, as they may or may not appear.
Parkinson’s disease is an example of a current medical mystery. It is clear that movement impairment is caused by the loss of dopamine neurons. However, why neurons become affected in the first place is a question without an answer. Statistically, it is possible to ascertain some correlations that have occurred. For instance, evidence exists that 10-15% of cases are caused by genetics (Parkinson’s Foundation, n.d.). Depending on the gene mutation, an affected person can either have higher probability of Parkinson’s or an assured development of this condition. Parkinson’s Foundation (n.d.) even encourages people to have a genetic test performed in order to understand what type of gene they might carry.
Nevertheless, genetic mutations explain only a small proportion of the overall number of cases. The fact of the matter is that a person with no genetic predisposition can be diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Once again, statistics allows researchers to identify certain risk factors that increase the chances of the disease. Evidently, genetic mutation is the first factor. Exposure to pesticides is another potential determinant. Next, age is also a risk factor. As humans age, their ability to regenerate and recover weakens. As Simon et al. (2020) write, “incidence increases 5 to 10 fold from the sixth to the ninth decades of life” (p. 3). The same researchers point to head injuries, such as concussions. There are also suggestions that exposure to heavy metals and being a man also serve as risk factors, but these statements are inconclusive.
It is important to understand that Parkinson’s disease has no known cure. As a result, all medical interventions are aimed at managing the symptoms and alleviating movement impairment. This implies that other symptoms are not the main focus of the treatment and have to be addressed separately. As movement problems are caused by the loss of dopamine neurons, the medications are used to compensate for the lack of dopamine (Emamzadeh & Surguchov, 2018). When medications no longer work, physicians resort to invasive medical procedures, such as deep brain stimulation therapy and gene therapy (Emamzadeh & Surguchov, 2018). Regardless of the method used, the ultimate goal is to compensate for the lack of dopamine neurons in the brain.
As it has already been mentioned, treatment with medications and surgery targets only neurons and physical limitations. Meanwhile, nonpharmacological approaches suggest making lifestyle changes. First, incorporation of exercises and physiotherapy might alleviate stiffness and joint pain during body movements. Second, speech therapy can help patients with Parkinson’s preserve the ability of muscles to produce speaking sounds. Finally, emotional problems such as depression require strong social support from friends and family. Naturally, none of these measures will cure the disease. However, the goal of these lifestyles changes is to alleviate the painful symptoms and slow down the disease progression.
Altogether, it should be evident that Parkinson’s disease has a wide array of physical and psychological problems experienced by patients. Currently, there is no answer to the reason for the loss of dopamine neurons, but it causes movement impairment. Patient statistics allows identifying risk factors – age, exposure to chemicals, genetics, and head injuries. As the disease progresses, more symptoms are added, including psychiatric conditions and cognitive decline. The treatment is focused on managing physical symptoms, as there is no known cure. Medications and surgery can compensate for the loss of neurons, but cannot stop the disease. Other types of treatment, such as physiotherapy, speech therapy, and exercises may help alleviate symptoms. Unless the cause for this medical condition is established, Parkinson’s disease will remain incurable.
Emamzadeh, F. N., & Surguchov, A. (2018). Parkinson’s disease: Biomarkers, treatment, and risk factors. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12(612), 1-14.
Simon, D. K., Tanner, C. M., & Brundin, P. (2020). Parkinson disease epidemiology, pathology, genetics, and pathophysiology. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 36(1), 1-12.
Parkinson’s Foundation. (n.d.). Genetics and Parkinson’s.