5 Essential facts about Parkinsons

Susannah Hickling 27 April 2022

Here are five must-know facts about the disease 

Parkinson’s isn’t just for the oldies. About 145,000 people in the UK live with Parkinson’s and it’s the fastest growing neurological disease in the world.

While most people start to develop symptoms when they’re over 50—Jeremy Paxman, 71, was recently diagnosed with the condition—about one in 20 people start showing symptoms when they’re under 40. Actor Michael J Fox was 30 when he was diagnosed.

Smaller handwriting might be a symptom. The usual first clue that you might have this progressive disease, which causes problems in the brain when certain nerve cells die, is a tremor. This may affect your chin, lips, hand or even just your little finger, usually when you’re relaxed.

Slow movement and stiffness are other symptoms, but, surprisingly, having large handwriting that suddenly goes little and having trouble smelling can also point to Parkinson’s.

Exercise can be as important as medication. It might seem hard to do anything physical when you feel you can barely move. But American research found that people with Parkinson’s who did 2.5 hours’ exercise a week experienced a slower decline in quality of life related to their health.

Exercise can also help protect against falls and improve insomnia and constipation, which are sometimes a problem for people with the condition. A high-fibre diet and fewer processed foods also helps with constipation. 

Treatments include physio and even surgery. There are a lot of different drug treatments which help with symptoms. Physiotherapy to improve movement and speech and language therapy if you have problems speaking out can be helpful.

Deep brain stimulation allows some people to move better and control involuntary movement. A device like a heart pacemaker on your chest or stomach area generates a tiny electric pulse to your brain via wires inserted under the skin.

It could be worth joining a clinical trial. The goal is to find a cure. Areas of research include transplanting stem cells and giving a protein known as GDNF to restore damaged brain cells. Clinical trials are also looking at more effective treatments and people who take part sometimes do better than people on existing therapies.

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