While people may be familiar with Parkinson’s Disease—whether they have been given a diagnosis themselves or know of a loved one who has the disease—they may not be familiar with available Parkinson’s Disease treatments.
As part of The Kensington Falls Church’s ongoing Promise to care for our residents as if they were our own family, we organized a special event to discuss the future of Parkinson’s Disease treatments with three specialists in the field.
Dr. Drew Falconer is a neurologist and a fellowship-trained specialist in movement disorders who joined Inova Neurology when the Inova Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center launched in 2015.
Currently, he serves as the center’s Medical Director and frequently speaks at educational events about Parkinson’s Disease and deep brain stimulation (DBS).
Also joining this event were Dr. Sean Rogers and Dr. Hannah Irving, two other respected neurologists specializing in movement disorders.
Dr. Irving’s work helps patients manage Parkinson’s Disease and similar neurological disorders, and she has specialized training in using deep brain stimulation and botulinum toxin injections to treat these conditions.
Finally, Dr. Sean Rogers has received the same specialized training but also has training on various memory disorders and different forms of dementia.
These experts kindly agreed to talk with The Kensington Falls Church about:
- Symptoms of Parkinson’s
- Causes of Parkinson’s Disease
- How the disease progresses
- Treatment options, both basic and cutting edge
Treatment options can take many forms to improve Parkinson’s symptoms and quality of life. But before researching the world of treatment of Parkinson’s disease, clinical trials, etc., let’s take an overview look at the causes and symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s is a progressive movement disorder that affects the nervous system.
This disease is a type of brain disorder that causes uncontrollable or unintended movements like stiffness, shaking, and difficulty with coordination and balance.
Symptoms progress very gradually and can be easily missed. A small tremor is a common first symptom, almost not noticeable to the untrained eye. The person might also experience some slowing of movements or stiffness.
A person’s face may stop or reduce showing expressions, arms might stop swinging when they walk, and their speech might become soft or slurred. Unfortunately, the symptoms of Parkinson’s patients will worsen as the disorder progresses, and the disease cannot be cured.
Causes of Parkinson’s disease
The part of the brain affected by Parkinson’s disease is called the substantia nigra, which is responsible for producing dopamine. Dopamine is a body chemical that acts as a messenger between the nervous system and the parts of the brain that coordinate or control body movements.
Nerve cells in the substantia nigra become damaged or die, reducing the amount of dopamine produced. This damage means a person’s control over movement is reduced, causing their motor skills to become slower and abnormal.
Parkinson’s disease symptoms will generally start to appear when about 80% of these nerve cells have been lost.
What causes the loss of nerve cells?
Unfortunately, it’s not known why these brain cells become damaged or lost. However, the belief is that a combination of environmental factors and genetic changes may be responsible for Parkinson’s Disease.
Several genetic factors increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. However, even if these factors are present in someone, it’s not known precisely how they make someone more susceptible to this disorder.
It can run in families; the faulty genes are often passed down through generations. But it’s still rare for this disease to be inherited in this manner.
Some research has suggested that environmental factors might increase a person’s risk of developing this disease—industrial and traffic pollution, agricultural herbicides and pesticides.
However, the evidence linking Parkinson’s Disease to environmental factors remains inconclusive.
What are the treatment options for Parkinson’s disease?
There is no known cure for this movement disorder, but treatments are available.
The treatment mostly falls into one of three categories:
- Supportive therapies like physical therapy
Treatment may not be needed in the early stages of the disease (assuming the symptoms are mild).
Several different types of therapies can make Parkinson’s disease easier to live with, allowing the person to deal with day-to-day symptoms with greater care. These therapies might include:
- Physiotherapy for stiff muscles and joint pain
- Occupational therapy for difficulty in everyday life situations
- Speech therapy
- Diet advice for relieving symptoms like constipation and avoiding low blood pressure
Medications may be used to improve the significant symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as movement problems and tremors.
There are three main types of oral medications commonly used:
- Levodopa therapy
- Dopamine agonists
- Monoamine oxidase-B inhibitors (including selegiline and rasagiline)
Levodopa is a commonly used medication for Parkinson’s patients. It is absorbed by the brain cells and turned into dopamine. It’s also not uncommon to combine with carbidopa and benserazide.
Dopamine agonists can act as a substitute for the chemical dopamine—generally similar effects, but milder compared to levodopa. In some cases, these two are often complementary therapies, allowing for lower doses of levodopa.
Finally, Monoamine oxidase-B (or MAO-B inhibitors) can block the effects of an enzyme that breaks down dopamine.
Some non-oral therapies include:
- Apomorphine (a dopamine agonist)
- Duodopa (a type of levodopa)
Deep brain stimulation is a special surgical procedure involving implanting a pulse generator similar to a pacemaker into the patient’s chest wall. Tiny electrodes stimulate the affected areas of the brain to treat Parkinson’s symptoms.
Caring for someone with Parkinson’s disease
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, there are over 60,000 new diagnoses of this disease each year in America and over ten million people worldwide who are living with the symptoms right now.
As you can imagine, the motivation to find new treatments is significant.
Caring for a loved one suffering from this disease can sometimes feel overwhelming. However, educational opportunities such as this event at The Kensington Falls Church can help sort out some of the details needed for better caregiving.
Furthermore, please get in touch with us if you have any questions about the benefits of 24/7 care and on-site rehabilitation that The Kensington Falls Church can provide.
Our community of residents and dedicated team members can provide some of the best in class Parkinson’s care to your loved one. Perhaps the best choice could be the peace of mind you get from knowing they are being cared for.