Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive neurological disease. It belongs to a group of conditions called motor system disorders, which are the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Dopamine, a neurochemical that controls communication between brain cells, is responsible for control of motor function.
The four primary motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination. Other non-motor symptoms include cognitive changes; difficulty in swallowing, chewing, and speaking; urinary problems or constipation; skin problems; and sleep disruptions.
It’s estimated 500,000 to 1.5 million Americans live with Parkinson’s disease. Currently there is no cure, therapy, or drug to slow or halt the progression of Parkinson’s disease. While medication masks some symptoms for a limited period, generally four to eight years, dose-limiting side-effects do occur after time. Eventually the medications lose their effectiveness, leaving the person unable to move, speak or swallow.
Learn more about Parkinson’s disease on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website.
What is the Cause?
The cause of Parkinson’s disease remains unknown, but scientists and researchers believe there to be both genetic and environmental factors. In October 2003, scientists at NIH discovered that too much of the alpha-synuclein gene may cause Parkinson’s disease. More recently, scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles discovered that some pesticides used on plants and crops that end up in well water are linked to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. The environmental and genetic links to Parkinson’s disease are diverse, but the science continues to progress.
History of Parkinson’s
In 1817, a British scientist named James Parkinson first described “the shaking palsy” in an essay. It was through this essay that he defined what we know as Parkinson’s disease today: “involuntary tremulous motion, with lessened muscular power, in parts not in action and even when supported; with a propensity to bend the trunk forwards, and to pass from a walking to a running pace: the senses and intellects being uninjured.”
People with Parkinson’s
It is unknown exactly how many Americans live with Parkinson’s disease, but most estimates range from 500,000 to 1.5 million. It is believed that nearly 60,000 people are diagnosed each year in the U.S. with Parkinson’s. The average age of diagnosis for Parkinson’s disease is 60 years old, but people as young as 18 have been diagnosed. Typically, anyone diagnosed under the age of 50 is considered as having young-onset Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s Disease and Parkinsonism: Are They the Same?
The Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN) has heard from advocates across the country that there are people with “Parkinsonisms” in their local support groups and who are active advocates, so we wanted to provide an overview of the similarities and differences between Parkinson’s disease and Parkinsonisms. Learn more.
PAN has compiled a list of resources to educate and connect people who are newly diagnosed with important resources. Learn more.
PAN hosted an interview series with three experts to help educate the community on caregiving, and what federal and state support might be available to spouses, partners, children, friends, and loved ones who help care for a person with Parkinson’s disease. Learn more.
Find a list of Parkinson’s disease and other health nonprofit organizations, as well as other helpful websites and information. Learn more.