Parkinson’s disease, which was named for the English doctor, James Parkinson, who was the first to extensively describe it, is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects one in 100 people over age 60. While the average age at onset is 60, people have been diagnosed as young as 18. As estimated one million people in the United States, and more than five million worldwide, have Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s is a disorder of the central nervous system that results from the loss of cells in various parts of the brain, especially the region known as the substantia nigra. Those cells are responsible for producing dopamine, a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals within the brain that allow for coordination of movement. The loss of dopamine results in the symptoms of PD – resting tremor, muscle rigidity, slowness of movement, and balance problems.
The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown. Although a small percentage of PD cases are hereditary, scientists currently believe that most cases of PD are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There is no definitive test for Parkinson’s, so the only way to diagnose the disease is through careful medical history and a thorough neurological examination. Doctors may also look for responsiveness to Parkinson’s medications as further evidence that Parkinson’s is the correct diagnosis.
Parkinson’s symptoms manifest differently in different patients. Many patients experience some symptoms and not others, and even the pace at which the disease worsens varies on an individual basis. As a result, it is difficult to predict the progress of the disease and treatments must be tailored to each individual.
At present, there is no cure for Parkinson’s and existing treatments only mask the symptoms. The primary treatments involve medication, which have varying on/off cycles (meaning, the medication does not always last until it is time for the next dose). Several recent scientific discoveries have increased optimism that therapies will be developed which can slow or halt the progress of the disease. Studies have shown that both listening to and playing music can reduce some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s is not something you expect at age 36, but I was lucky in that my diagnosis came several years after Michael J. Fox revealed he had been diagnosed with PD. That meant a wealth of resources and information were available to me about how to handle the diagnosis, not to mention the $270 million in research that has been funded through the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Cath is a Team Fox project. Team Fox supports individual efforts to raise funds for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and all proceeds from the sales of this CD benefit that Foundation.