How to manage Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a motor system disorder caused by damage to brain cells. If you have PD, you may have difficulty sleeping and eating, and managing everyday tasks like dressing and moving around.

Worldwide, Parkinson’s disease is becoming more and more common. The disease occurs when certain nerve cells (neurons) die or become weakened. Normally, these neurons produce dopamine – a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals within the brain.

Loss of dopamine causes the nerve cells to fire out of control, leaving you unable to direct or control movements in a normal way. Researchers say that Parkinson’s disease isn’t usually inherited, and there is some evidence to show that chemicals in the environment might play a role.

Symptoms

Parkinson’s symptoms usually appear in people 60 and older, although younger people can be affected. These may include:

  • Tremor or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw and face.
  • Rigidity (stiffness of limbs and trunk).
  • Bradykinesia (slowness of movement).
  • Postural instability (impaired balance and coordination).

Early symptoms are subtle and happen gradually, while the late stages might bring on increased muscle stiffness and tremors, cognitive weakening and other complications like falls, gastrointestinal problems, pneumonia and choking.

Treatment

With the right treatment, most people with Parkinson’s can live full and productive lives. There’s medication to offer relief from the symptoms, but no drug can stop the progression of the disease.

Not yet, in any case.

Researchers at Stellenbosch University recently found that the causes of PD in South African patients differ to those from America, Europe and Asia. “More research is needed on SA patients to understand the unique aspects of the disease on local patients,” says Professor Soraya Bardien from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the university (FMHS). They also identified the therapeutic benefits of curcumin (an active ingredient in turmeric).

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In America, researchers have found that a molecule in the drug, Niclosamid, might be able to protect against neuronal damage from Parkinson’s. Other universities and institutes are also hard at work on finding new treatments.

In some cases, surgery is an appropriate treatment. For instance, deep-brain stimulation (DBS) may help ease symptoms in some people who have stopped responding to medication.

Your doctor might also advise physical therapy or muscle-strengthening exercises.

Managing PD with diet

  • Your diet can take care of pesky symptoms like constipation. Bulk up on fibre-friendly foods, drink sufficient water and eat plenty of vegetables. If you have to take a laxative, check with your doctor first.
  • Protect your weak bones from falls with foods that contain Vitamin D, Vitamin K, calcium and magnesium.
  • PD can directly or indirectly result in weight loss or gain. This may be due to nausea, loss of appetite, fluid retention and slowed colon movement (which affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients). Depression and compulsive eating may also be factors. A careful diet can help to control these changes.

Some things to remember about carrying your medication:

  • Keep your medication in its original bottles, with all the details on the label. Also, keep a list of your meds and dosages.
  • Where possible, bring an extra supply as a back-up.
  • Keep a copy of your prescriptions on you.
  • Carry your medication in your carry-on bag, as well anything you normally take with your meds, like a small amount of water, juice or snacks.

References