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April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic disorder where a person’s brain slowly stops producing dopamine. With a lesser amount of dopamine, a person has less ability to regulate their movements, body, and emotions. Most people’s symptoms take years to develop, and they live for years with the disease.
 
The motor symptoms, such as tremors and impaired balance, appear when around 60 to 80% of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged. A current theory hypothesizes that early signs of Parkinson’s may include loss of sense of smell, sleep disorders, and constipation. Researchers believe that these symptoms may precede the motor features of the disease by several years.
 
Worldwide, an estimated 7 to 10 million people live with Parkinson’s disease. Incidence of Parkinson’s increases with age, but an estimated four percent of people with PD are diagnosed before the age of 50. Statistics also show that men are slightly more likely to be affected than women.
 
The cause for Parkinson’s is not known, but researchers continue to work diligently to uncover possible causes. Although the majority of cases are not directly inherited, researchers have discovered that people with an affected first-degree relative, like a parent or sibling, have a four to nine percent higher chance of developing PD.
 
Parkinson’s can be difficult to diagnose because there is no conclusive test to show if a person has PD. Physicians rely on a neurological examination, the individual’s description of symptoms, and testing that rules out other conditions. Currently, there is no cure for people with Parkinson’s. Available treatment options include medication and surgery to manage symptoms.
 
Promising new science has led to increased understanding of Parkinson’s disease. In recent years, researchers are studying the biology of people with genetic mutations linked to Parkinson’s disease to discover new treatments.
 
Those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease and seek expert care notice better quality of life, have a lower risk of complications, and even live longer. Each year in the U.S. neurologist care saves 4,600 lives of people with Parkinson’s. Physical therapists and occupational therapists can also aid those dealing with issues, like walking and balance, which are associated with the disease.
 
If you or a loved one has Parkinson’s disease and is looking for professional care, the providers below offer their support and expertise.

Ralph Dunnigan, MD
Carmen Schempp, MOT, OTR/L
 
References:
"Genetics and Parkinson's Disease | Parkinson's Disease Information." The Michael J. Fox Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.
"National Parkinson Foundation: Believe in Better." National Parkinson Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.
"Understanding Parkinson's." (2010): 1-2. Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.