Read on for a look at Parkinson’s disease – a condition that many people across the country misunderstand.
You may already be familiar with Parkinson’s disease – some extremely high-profile people suffer from the condition, including Muhammad Ali, Michael J Fox and Bob Hoskins. However there is growing concern that even though Parkinson’s gets a lot of coverage, awareness of the condition remains low.
A recent report revealed that Parkinson’s sufferers regularly faced discrimination from people who didn’t understand the effects of the condition. There’s no doubt that the overwhelming majority of these instances of discrimination come not from any malicious attitude towards the illness or it’s sufferers, but rather are due to a lack of recognition of the disease.
From 15 – 21 April, Parkinson’s UK has been trying to address this problem with Parkinson’s Awareness Week. Education is the first step towards fostering an understanding of the condition and the charity has been asking people to put themselves in the position of people who are suffering from Parkinson’s.
The disease and its symptoms
You’ll find a wealth of information about Parkinson’s disease online but essentially the condition is caused by a loss of brain cells that create dopamine, an essential part of the way that movement is co-ordinated. Because less dopamine gets created, movement becomes problematic in sufferers and this can have numerous symptoms:
- Muscle tremors and shaking, particularly noticeable while at rest
- Unsteady balance
- Slow movement
- Speech changes
- Loss of facial expression
As the condition develops it can have several other effects on the body, culminating in the gradual loss of many physical functions. It is a devastating condition for sufferers in whom it reaches an advanced stage – and if you take a minute to think about how it would affect your own life you’ll quickly realise how your daily routine could be disrupted by the disease.
Treating the condition
Although there’s no cure for Parkinson’s, there are a number of different treatments for the disease, largely focussing on boosting the levels of dopamine that the brain produces. The main areas of treatment come in the form of medicines and surgery.
Medicines: There are a number of different substances that are currently used to slow Parkinson’s down and supress its worst symptoms. The most effective are those that replace the dopamine which sufferers are no longer producing. However, many of these have side-effects which can cause people with Parkinson’s serious problems.
Surgery: If medicines begin to lose their efficacy then a course of surgery may be recommended to sufferers. The most common procedure is deep brain stimulation, during which electrodes are placed in the parts of the brain responsible for movement. Tiny electrical currents are passed through these electrodes, stimulating these centres of movement.
Both drugs and surgery are essential components in combatting the negative effects of Parkinson’s on the lives of the people who have the disease. One of the other major ways to help with those lives is to foster an understanding of the condition in the general public.
Now you’re armed with a basic understanding of the condition you are in a great position to contribute to awareness raising efforts and this can mean as much or as little as you want. You can simply get talking about the disease.
There are many high profile sufferers but all too often conversations about them are reduced to a sorry shake of the head and a brief exclamation of pity. Hijack these conversations and use them as an opportunity to grow the knowledge of others – it’ll put them in a much better position to recognise the reality of Parkinson’s and so respond appropriately should they come across it.
Beyond this you could take a more active role in the fight against the condition, raising money to help research programmes and the efforts of charities such as Parkinson’s UK who try to make a difference in the life of those who have the condition.
What will you do to help in the battle against Parkinson’s?