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Can you reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

It is estimated that 1 in every 500 people in the UK are affected by Parkinson’s disease.

For those affected by this neurological condition, it becomes incredibly important to try and find an effective way to control (and, to the extent possible, reduce) the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and the huge impact it has upon their daily lives.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition in which parts of the human brain become damaged over time. Parkinson’s disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in a particular part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This leads to a reduction in the amount of dopamine which is a chemical within the brain that regulates the body’s movements. Consequently, the reduction of the brain’s natural stock of dopamine results in problems with moving and communicating.

What are the causes of Parkinson’s disease?

Whilst the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, it is generally thought by the scientific community that a combination of genetics and environmental factors play a crucial role.

What are the common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

The condition has a range of symptoms which generally afflict individuals over the age of 50, although 1 in 20 people might show symptoms when they are below this age. Men are slightly more likely to be afflicted by Parkinson’s disease than women.

There are three common types of symptoms of Parkinson’s disease which are as follows:

  • involuntary shaking of various parts of the body (tremors);
  • slowness of movement; and
  • muscle stiffness.

However, not everyone will suffer all of these symptoms. Other symptoms which can occur in those with Parkinson’s disease can include the following:

  • general fatigue;
  • constipation;
  • memory problems;
  • issues with balance;
  • loss of the sense of smell;
  • depression and anxiety; and
  • insomnia.

Whilst Parkinson’s disease does not directly lead to death, the condition will generally get worse over time. Also, the amount of strain that is placed on the body through this condition can make some sufferers more susceptible to serious and life-threatening infections.

What are the different types of treatment available for Parkinson’s disease?

Presently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, there are a range of treatments available which can help to reduce the majority of symptoms and, thereby, give sufferers a relatively good quality of life for as long as possible.

The main types of treatment available are as follows:

  • medication;
  • supportive treatments – such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy; and
  • in some cases, brain surgery.

What therapies are available for managing Parkinson’s disease?

Occupational therapy

As an individual’s Parkinson’s disease progresses, they might find it increasingly difficult to complete everyday tasks such as dressing, eating, bathing and working.

Occupational therapy is designed to help those suffering with chronic illnesses to maintain most of their daily activities and routines. Occupational therapists can show relatively simple ways to maintain an individual’s independence and may include recommendations to help make their home safer, such as installing handrails and/or a stairlift.

Speech and language therapy

Speech and language therapy is designed to make communication easier for people living with Parkinson’s disease.

Having this form of therapy soon after diagnosis of Parkinson’s can often help avoid (or delay) future problems with speech from developing. Speech therapists will concentrate on showing techniques that can help an individual’s speech, facial expressions and body language.

This usually includes going through particular exercises which are designed to strengthen and add power to an individual’s voice; assist with controlling facial expressions and help with swallowing and dribbling problems. Sometimes, this can also include the use of other communication aids where speaking is particularly difficult.

Visiting a dietitian

A qualified and registered dietitian will be able to help individuals with any problems with their diet and help them to maintain a healthy weight. An individual’s weight is an important issue for those suffering with Parkinson’s disease because of the affect of the symptoms, and side effects of medication, on an individual’s appetite. It is important to note that some foods can prevent certain prescribed medication from working effectively and, therefore, visiting a dietitian can help ensure that an individual’s existing diet is not negatively impacting their condition.

Usually, a dietitian will provide a range of tips to help prevent (or reduce) the occurrence of constipation, assist with swallowing problems and help choosing the right nutritious foods, containing the necessary balance of vitamins and minerals, to maintain a healthy diet.

Qualified dietitians can also advise on how to make eating easier. This is particularly useful for those who find that Parkinson’s disease is limiting their ability to eat independently.

Physiotherapy

Keeping mobile when suffering with a chronic condition such as Parkinson’s disease can be particularly difficult. A qualified physiotherapist will be able to provide an individual with a range of exercises and other types of physical techniques that can help an individual to keep mobile and moving comfortably.

Usually, this will take the form of physical exercises to help improve one’s muscle strength, flexibility and fitness. Physiotherapists will also work with those suffering from this condition to help improve balance and, thereby, help reduce the risk of falling over and sustaining injury. Physiotherapy can also help to reduce the pain caused by Parkinson’s in some cases.

Complementary therapies

Whilst there is conflicting opinion about whether complementary therapies provide any medical benefit, many people with Parkinson’s disease have reported that they can help to reduce the effect of symptoms, when used alongside normal medicine.

Complementary therapies include treatments such as acupuncture, massage therapy and aromatherapy. It goes without saying that they should only be used alongside your conventional Parkinson’s treatment and not instead of it.

Creative and therapeutic activities

Taking part in creative activities and hobbies that an individual enjoys has been shown to generally help boost mental wellbeing and assist an individual to cope with the impact of Parkinson’s disease. Whatever activity you enjoy – whether it’s singing, dancing or writing poetry – keeping active is really important when it comes to managing this condition over the long-term.

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