If you're suffering from Parkinson's disease, you are not alone. It affects 1.5 million Americans, and approximately 60,000 new cases appear each year. This diagnosis can be a trial both mentally and physically.
As you move, your brain, spinal cord and muscles undertake a complex series of interactions. Consider walking, for example — a seemingly simple activity that is nothing short of a miracle. While much of the brain is devoted to perceiving distance and obstacles in our way, a small area in the brain's center, called the substantia nigra, busily releases a chemical messenger, or neurotransmitter, known as dopamine. Charged with dopamine, nerve cells (neurons) control how our muscles move.
Yet, when the substantia nigra cannot send the appropriate levels of dopamine, muscles lose the ability to maintain balance and coordination. This is the case with Parkinson's disease.
In Parkinson's, cells in the substantia nigra waste away. Dopamine levels therefore drop, leaving acetylcholine — another important neurotransmitter — to guide muscle contractions. As a result, voluntary movement becomes slowed (called bradykinesia) and rigid. Arms and legs stiffen. Tremors take over when resting. Walking is no longer a simple activity.
Caring for Parkinson's disease
When caring for Parkinson's, HonorHealth's team focuses on treating all aspects of the disorder. Beyond problems with movement, Parkinson's can present challenges for thinking, emotions and the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, which controls heart rate, digestion, breathing and more.
It's a complex disease that requires strong communication and collaboration throughout HonorHealth's network — among neurologists, nurses, physical therapists and related staff. With each technology and treatment, you are the focus, surrounded by your family, caregivers and our team.
Because every case of Parkinson's is different, the neurological team will do all it can to fine-tune treatments to an your specific needs.
Treatment for Parkinson's depends on the severity and stage of the disorder. Medication can greatly improve quality of life in mild and moderate cases. However, dosages are typically adjusted as the disease progresses.
In the meantime, surgical procedures are reserved for patients who face severe symptoms and drug-related side effects.
Unfortunately, neither approach can reverse damage caused by the disease or completely eliminate symptoms.