The Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is a chronic, slowly progressive disease of nerve cells (neurons) in the part of the brain (the substantia nigra) that controls muscle movement.  Normally, these nerve cells produce a substance called dopamine, a chemical “messenger” that transmits signals from one group of cells to another, to produce coordinated function of the body’s muscles and facilitate smooth movement.  When the cells die – and dopamine production is therefore reduced – people may experience a variety of symptoms: tremors, movement problems such as bradykinesia (slowness), rigidity, incomplete range of movement, “freezing”, a soft, monotone voice, loss of facial expression, diminished energy, and impaired balance and coordination.  Confusion, memory, and other cognitive activities may also occur.  Depression is known to affect up to 50% of Parkinson’s patients.

Despite on-going research, there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s.  The medications doctors prescribe address symptomatic relief only, but usually have a positive effect on the patient’s quality of life in that these drugs can mitigate many of the symptoms.  Likewise, regular exercise has been shown to delay, often for a considerable period of time, the onset and intensity of symptoms.  Activities that focus on balance, flexibility, coordination, breathing, and voice projection are particularly beneficial.  Also of help are support groups that address emotional concerns, education, advocacy, and action.