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Parkinson's Disease FAQs

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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Q:Parkinson's disease is only seen in people of advanced age. True or False?

A:False. With typical Parkinson's disease, advanced age is the only known risk factor. In most cases, patients are usually greater than 60 years of age. Although adult-onset Parkinson's disease is most common, younger people can be affected by early onset Parkinson's (21-40 years) and/or juvenile-onset Parkinson's (21 years or younger).

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Q:Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder. True or False?

A:True. Parkinson's disease is the most common movement disorder. Parkinson's is a degenerative neurological condition that causes progressive loss of function and mobility. These effects are the result of a malfunctioning nervous system, specifically, dysfunctional nerve cells in the brain.

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Q:What does the body's nervous system control?

A:The five senses, Balance and blood pressure and Thought and reason. The nervous system is an elaborate arrangement of particular cells that helps the human body interact with the outside world through senses and reasoning. The nervous system is comprised of two parts: the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the spinal cord and the brain, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), which controls movements and functions, both voluntary and involuntary.

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Q:Severe headaches are a main symptom of Parkinson's disease. True or False?

A:False. Signs of Parkinson's disease generally involve motor (movement) symptoms. Classic symptoms include tremors, rigidity and stiffness, slowness of movement called bradykinesia, and instability. In more advanced stages of Parkinson's disease, distinct difficulty walking (Parkinsonian gait) may develop. Note: Medically speaking, "motor" refers to motion.

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Q:What causes Parkinson's disease?

A:Loss of the brain chemical dopamine. Nerve cells in the brain manufacture dopamine. Dopamine carries "messages" back and forth in areas of the brain that regulate movement. As seen in Parkinson's disease, the "messages" are not properly carried between nerve cells due to deficient amounts of dopamine, affecting smooth motion such as walking (and other voluntary and involuntary functions). The symptoms of Parkinson's disease worsen as the brain produces less dopamine over time.

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Q:There are no laboratory tests to diagnose Parkinson's disease. True or False?

A:True. To date, there are no laboratory tests to diagnose Parkinson's disease. Though early diagnosis is best, Parkinson's is difficult to diagnose accurately because it can mimic many other movement disorders. Therefore, to reach a diagnosis of Parkinson's, doctors base their conclusions on a patient's medical history and a neurological exam.

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Q:There are what stages of Parkinson's disease?

A:5. Though there is no way to predict what course the disease will take for an individual person, stages of Parkinson's disease usually include: Stage one: Symptoms on one side of the body only Stage two: Symptoms on both sides of the body; no impairment of balance Stage three: Balance impairment; mild to moderate disease; physically independent Stage four: Severe disability, but still able to walk or stand unassisted Stage five: Wheelchair-bound or bedridden unless assisted These stages are taken from the widely used Hoehn and Yahr scale to classify the progression of Parkinson's disease. Another system for describing the progression of Parkinson's is the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS). The UPDRS is a more sophisticated scale featuring multiple ratings to observe mental functioning, behavior, and mood; activity level; and motor function. Both scales are used to assess well-being how treatments affect this disease.

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Q:Dementia is often seen in the later stages of Parkinson's disease. True or False?

A:True. In general, dementia is a term that describes a collection of symptoms that include decreased intellectual functioning, and can include impaired or lost functions in judgment, language, speech, memory, perception, reasoning, and mental abilities. The progressive dementia observed in patients with Parkinson's disease is referred to as "Parkinson's dementia."

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Q:What are Lewy bodies?

A:Clumps of protein found in the brain. Named after Dr. Frederich Lewy who discovered the tiny masses in Parkinson's patients, Lewy bodies are unusual protein deposits found in the brain. Lewy bodies appear to be linked to -- if not the cause of – certain types of dementia seen with both Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. When types of dementia are caused by the presence of Lewy bodies, a patient is diagnosed with dementia with Lewy bodies, or DLB.

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Q:Who is more likely to develop Parkinson's disease: Men or women?

A:Men. Men are more likely to develop Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's is seen nearly twice as often in men as women.

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Q:Parkinson's disease can be prevented. True or False?

A:False. Parkinson's disease is believed to develop through a complex process. While research continues to learn more about Parkinson's, scientists have yet to pinpoint an exact cause. Triggers of Parkinson's disease remain unknown and because of this, medical science has not found a way to prevent the disease.

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