Nearly 100,000 Canadians suffer from Parkinson’s disease, which is a progressive neurodegenerative condition that can rob a person of the ability to lead a normal, productive life. As it tends to appear later in life, 85 percent of those in Canada diagnosed with the disease are over 65, it is vital that individuals and their families understand Parkinson’s and its treatment.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is the result of the death of cells in the brain that provide dopamine, a chemical that promotes communication between brain cells. This impairs controlled, voluntary muscle movement and often results in uncontrollable tremors, rigidity, impaired balance, and slowed movements. As the disease progresses, it can cause lost productivity and premature death.
There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, although there have been some positive movements in the research community. Meanwhile, Parkinson’s sufferers can live for years with the condition, but will continue to experience the symptoms, which include:
- Soft speech
- Trouble with handwriting
- Stooped posture
- Problems with sleeping
- Constipation and urinary problems
- Sexual dysfunction
- Sensory symptoms (numbness, pain, or a burning sensation)
- Depression and anxiety
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease change throughout the course of the condition and will worsen over time. There are no specific tests or x-rays that will definitively diagnose Parkinson’s disease, and it may take years to diagnose because the symptoms manifest themselves gradually. A family doctor may notice them first and send the patient to a neurologist for further testing before a final diagnosis can be made.
Facts about Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is considered by most to be a disease affecting mostly seniors, with onset averaging at around age 60. However, nearly 10 percent of the diagnoses of Parkinson’s occur in people under the age of 40, and 20 percent are under age 50. While many of the symptoms will be the same, regardless of the age of onset, there are some differences with younger sufferers:
- Dementia and Balance Problems—These are less likely among those with an earlier onset.
- Medications—Those with earlier onset are typically are more sensitive to the medication benefits used to treat Parkinson’s.
- Physical Complaints—Cramping or abnormal posture is more prevalent.
- Work Life—On average, those with earlier onset are able to function at work longer than those who acquire the disease later in life.
Assistance and Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease can be controlled through the use of medication, which needs to be adjusted as the disease progresses. Physical exercise and professional therapy can also help assuage some of the worst effects on daily activities. In addition to healthcare professionals, there are organizations and programs available that can educate and support patients and their caregivers.
- Parkinson Society Canada—This national organization partners with regional groups and 240 chapters and support groups to provide support, education, and advocacy for Canadians with the disease. It also helps fund research in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.
- Canadian Disability Tax Credit—Those with Parkinson’s disease may qualify for a Canadian disability tax credit. The disability tax credit is intended to help with extra expenses caused by the condition and to help sufferers lead a more normal, productive life.
- Physicians—Since there is no cure, ongoing professional medical care is necessary. Parkinson’s patients frequently need their medications adjusted or changed as the disease alters over time. Some patients also may benefit from surgery.
- Physical, Speech, and Occupational Therapy—Several different therapies can improve the quality of life for Parkinson’s patients. Physical therapy helps with mobility and flexibility. Occupational therapy improves the performance of daily chores. Speech therapy aids in voice control.
While Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating, progressive condition, there are a number of treatments that can relieve many symptoms that get in the way of living life. If you have any suspicions, seek help early and investigate your options for a disability tax credit.
For more information: Parkinson Society British Columbia