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Neuroscience Center

Parkinson Disease

More than one million people in the United States suffer from Parkinson disease (PD). Most patients are over the age of 50, although younger patients are being seen daily. Parkinson disease does not affect everyone in the same way. Some patients are more severely affected than others.  

Understanding Parkinson Disease

Parkinson disease is a chronic neurological disorder caused by a lack of a certain chemical in the brain. This chemical, called dopamine, controls movement, posture and walking. Without enough dopamine, patients commonly experience resting tremors, stiff muscles (rigidity) and slow movement (bradykinesia).

Other symptoms of PD may include:  
  • Stooped posture 
  • Speech and swallowing problems 
  • A mask-like facial expression 
  • Shuffling gait 
  • Difficulty rising from chairs
  • Difficulty with fine hand movements 
  • Micrographia (small handwriting)
Symptoms may appear on one or both sides of the body. Signs of the disease have a slow, gradual onset. The cause of PD is still unknown. However, studies  have suggested that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to development of PD.

Treating Parkinson Disease

As of now, there is no cure for Parkinson disease; however, recent advances in medical management may allow many patients to maintain a high level of function throughout their lifetimes. Medications are the mainstay of treatment for this condition. Medications control the symptoms of PD by balancing the level of dopamine in brain. The medical treatment of PD is complex and ever-changing and needs to be tailored to the individual patient’s condition. Surgical treatment called deep brain stimulation is available for certain PD patients. 

Physical Therapy for Parkinson Disease

Physical therapy for individuals with PD can include exercise and training programs to address walking, balance, strength, flexibility and overall fitness. Physical therapists also can teach individuals new movement strategies to compensate for changes in movement control. Assistive devices can be prescribed to help make daily activities easier and more effective.

Support Groups for Parkinson Disease

Visit American Parkinson Disease Association - St. Louis Chapter for a list of support groups and programs.

Brad Racette, MD

Neurologist, Barnes-Jewish & Washington University Neuroscience Center

 
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