Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month

By Chiara Marcello

April marks Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, shining light on a common neurological condition that affects many within our communities. As Parkinson’s is often confused with regular aging, it is important to remain educated on the symptoms and physical effects of the condition to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Dr. Paul Ranalli, a Neurologist at Humber River Hospital has provided insight into what to look out for and what treatments are available for those affected.

Dr. Paul Ranalli

What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative, spontaneous neurological condition, meaning there is no exact cause. This condition primarily affects the movement of the body, but may also affect the mind in its later stages. The older an individual becomes, the greater the likelihood of them developing Parkinson’s. While it is tragically uncommon for those under the age of 55 to develop the condition, it can occur on the rare occasion.

What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?
As the likelihood of developing Parkinson’s increases with age, many often confuse symptoms of Parkinson’s with normal aging and arthritis. This is due to the condition appearing gradually rather than all at once. Some affected will notice a lack of movement as the muscles become very stiff and rigid People may become unbalanced and develop a characteristic tremor that begins on one side of the body prior to spreading to both sides. The “essential tremor” is most commonly experienced, which causes rhythmic and rapid shaking on both sides of the body. Those affected are not weak, but prohibited from being able to maintain proper use of their muscles, affecting their ability to carry out certain everyday tasks.

What causes Parkinson’s Disease?
In a minority of cases, Parkinson’s is caused by genetics, but a majority of the time the cause of the condition is unknown. It is often spontaneous for most people affected.

What treatments are available?
Parkinson’s begins mild and continues to progress very slowly. As it is often confused with aging, many people are not treated for Parkinson’s right away. Nonetheless, once diagnosed, medicine typically works for the first three years, but eventually higher doses become required. Depending on the patient and the progression of the condition, brain operations are also available. For example, deep brain stimulation is a process in which a miniscule hole is drilled into the skull of the affected patient. Through this hole, a small wire is inserted deep in the brain, which is then connected to a battery pack sewn under the skin of the left chest. This allows the patient to dial in a certain amount of electrical current to control their tremor and improve movement.
Toronto hospitals are leading centres for these neurological treatments.

What are tips to maintaining and reducing the likelihood of developing Parkinson’s?
While Parkinson’s is spontaneous and cannot be completely avoided, there are ways to maintain proper brain health:
• Maintain a healthy diet full of antioxidants, including coloured vegetables and blueberries
• Practice cognitive activities, such as crosswords to keep the mind active
• Keep physically fit with aerobic and resistance exercise
• Be social!
Parkinson’s patients may begin to develop their own type of dementia, known as Lewy Body Dementia, which make social activities of utmost importance. Being less social and isolated leads to a higher risk of developing dementia and other neurological conditions in the future.