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HealthInfo West Coast-Te Tai Poutini

Parkinson disease

Mate pākenetana

Parkinson disease is a neurological condition, which means it affects your brain and nervous system.

It's progressive, which means it gradually gets worse. The condition develops slowly as nerves in a part of your brain called the substantia nigra degenerate or die. These nerve cells are responsible for producing a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine acts as a messenger between the parts of the brain and nervous system that help control and coordinate body movements.

We do not know what causes this to happen.

Parkinson disease usually happens to people over the age of 60, though it can start earlier.

Symptoms of Parkinson disease

The three main symptoms of Parkinson disease affect your physical movement (motor symptoms).

Tremor

Stiffness

Slowness of movement (also known as bradykinesia)

You may also experience a range of other physical and mental symptoms (non-motor symptoms), such as:

The main symptoms of Parkinson disease are also the main symptoms of several conditions that are grouped together under the term parkinsonism.

Diagnosing Parkinson disease

There are no tests that show that you have Parkinson disease. Your doctor will base their diagnosis on your symptoms, medical history and a detailed physical examination.

It can be hard to diagnose Parkinson disease in the early stages because the symptoms are usually mild at first. If your doctor thinks you might have Parkinson disease, they will refer you to a specialist. This will usually be a neurologist (a specialist in conditions affecting the brain and nervous system) or a geriatrician (a specialist in conditions affecting older people).

Treating Parkinson disease

Although there is currently no cure for Parkinson disease, treatments are available to help reduce your symptoms and maintain your quality of life for as long as possible. These include:

If you have mild symptoms of Parkinson disease, your doctor might not recommend medication and instead focus on supportive therapy and lifestyle improvements such as physical activity and relaxation. As your symptoms get worse, they will prescribe medication.

Supportive therapies

There are several therapies that can make living with Parkinson disease easier and help you deal with your symptoms. These include:

Medication

Medicines do not prevent Parkinson disease, but they aim to improve your daily functioning. You'll usually start taking medicines when the symptoms disrupt your daily life.

Everybody's experience of Parkinson disease is different, and your doctor will work with you to find the best treatments for your particular symptoms. Depending on your symptoms and responses to medicines, you may need to try a combination of medicines and your medicines may change over time as your symptoms change.

Examples of medicines for Parkinson disease include levodopa + benserazide, levodopa + carbidopa, ropinirole, pramipexole, entacapone, tolcapone, rasagiline and amantadine.

Read about medicines for Parkinson disease, including tips for taking them and medicines to avoid.

Your doctor will also prescribe medication and other treatments as necessary to help you manage other symptoms, such as depression, pain and gastrointestinal problems.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS)

DBS is a therapy aimed at treating multiple symptoms in some people with late-stage Parkinson disease. It's only suitable for a small number of people.

Read more about deep brain stimulation.

Self-care with Parkinson disease

Taking good care of yourself is the key to living well with Parkinson disease.

Exercising is one of the most important things you can do to stay well. It improves your overall health and wellbeing and appears to improve your body's reaction to dopamine.

Find something you enjoy and aim to do it every day. Medication can help you keep going with your chosen activity.

Parkinson's New Zealand has a specific exercise programme for people living with Parkinson disease.

There a several apps for Parkinson disease, including exercise programmes.

Eating well and staying a healthy weight are also important when you have Parkinson disease.

Support for Parkinson disease

Some people find it helpful to talk to others with Parkinson disease, either at a local support group or online.

Parkinson's New Zealand provides support and information for people with any parkinsonism condition. This includes local services and support, support for carers and UPBEAT, a special interest group for people with early-onset Parkinson disease, their whānau (family) and friends.

Also see Parkinson New Zealand's resources for carers.

If you've been diagnosed in the last 12 months, the Duncan Foundation may be able to help with private physiotherapy.

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Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub collaborative. Page created November 2022.

Sources

See also:

Community groups for communication difficulties

Disability aids

Dysarthria (speech problems)

Eating well for older people

Swallowing difficulties (dysphagia)

Managing everyday activities

Page reference: 1155612

Review key: HIPAR-19688