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HealthInfo Aoraki-South Canterbury

Parkinson disease

Parkinson disease is a condition of the nervous system. It affects 1% of people over 60, but it can affect younger people as well.

In Parkinson disease, the cells in the brain that produce the chemical dopamine are destroyed. Dopamine helps with quick, coordinated movement. When dopamine is reduced, movements can become slow and stiff.

Parkinson disease causes shaking or tremor, and stiffness. It can also make it hard to start movements like walking. Later in the disease it can cause depression and dementia. If you develop a tremor or difficulty with movement, you should see your doctor.

There's no cure for Parkinson disease. The disease is a slowly progressive one, meaning that it takes a long time from diagnosis to the more severe symptoms developing. There's medication that you can take that can help improve movement difficulties. As this is a progressive disease these medicines will eventually stop helping, so doctors often prefer to wait until the symptoms are more problematic before starting them (to get the greatest benefit from their use before they stop working). It's also important to stay active. This helps to keep your muscles strong and improves your balance.

Eating well and maintaining a healthy weight is important when you have Parkinson disease. It's common for people with Parkinson disease to lose weight but some people gain weight. Changes in weight can affect your health and wellbeing.

Being underweight means you can lose muscle, bone mass and strength. It can also make you more prone to infection. Being overweight raises your risk of heart disease and puts stress on your joints. If you're struggling to maintain a healthy weight ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian.

Conditions related to Parkinson disease

Some less common conditions can seem very like Parkinson disease, but also have differences. As a group, they are called Parkinsonism conditions. They include:

Certain medications that affect the brain and dopamine levels can also cause parkinsonism.

Who can help?


It's important to stay active if you have Parkinson disease. A physiotherapist can help you with an exercise plan to maintain movement, muscle strength and balance. The Parkinson's Society of South Canterbury offers exercise classes at 10 am at St Paul's Church, 349 Wai-iti Rd, Timaru every Friday and runs a gym session at Performance Training, 1 Heaton St, Timaru every Thursday at 10 am.

Or you could see a private physiotherapist with an interest in Parkinson disease.

Other health professionals

Dietitians, occupational therapists and speech-language therapists can all help people with Parkinson disease.

Support organisations

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed September 2019. Last updated December 2019.

See also:

Community groups for communication difficulties

Disability aids

Dysarthria (speech problems)

Eating well for older adults

Swallowing problems

Managing everyday activities

Page reference: 74030

Review key: HIPAR-19688