Parkinson's disease

If you've been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, it's important to remember that many people living with this neurological condition are able to live full, productive lives.

Today, more than ever before, medications and other treatments can help you manage your symptoms and maintain a good quality of life.

Medical treatments for Parkinson's

Parkinson's disease is caused by a lack of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which conveys messages between neurons. A lack of dopamine causes tremors and impaired movement as well as non-motor symptoms.

Medical treatment focuses on restoring the balance of dopamine and falls under two main categories of dopamine replacement therapy and dopamine agonists. Like all medications they can cause undesirable side effects.

Usually the prescribing physician will be a neurologist and possibly a geriatrician. It's important to maintain clear communication with your treating physician and monitor for any side effects or changes in your condition.

Parkinson's Australia is a good source of information on medical treatments for this neurological condition.

Parkinson's and speech

Half of the people diagnosed with Parkinson's will experience changes in their speech. These changes might include huskiness, slurred speech or a type of stuttering. The rate of speaking may increase or slow.

Maintaining communication is an important part of human relationships and there are numerous techniques and treatments to help people with Parkinson's maintain their ability to speak and express themselves.

MSWA's speech pathologists are trained to treat the speech difficulties experienced by people living with Parkinson's.

Parkinson's and swallowing

Maintaining good nutrition is important for everyone, but people living with Parkinson's may experience difficulties with swallowing that can make it difficult to eat a balanced diet.

Swallowing problems vary but may present as coughing when eating or drinking, difficulty breathing during meals and eating and drinking very slowly.

An MSWA speech pathology/dietetics team can assess your swallowing and recommend ways to help you eat and drink safely.

Parkinson's and driving

Your capacity to drive a car safely may change over time. Parkinson's can cause reduced physical reaction time, tremor, fatigue and other issues that can affect your driving skills. Medications for Parkinson's can also impact adversely on your ability to drive.

It is advisable to report your diagnosis of Parkinson's to your insurance company. The Department of Transport of Western Australia requires you to self-report your diagnosis.

If you're unsure about whether it's safe for you to drive, talk to your doctor first. A medical assessment may be advisable.

Parkinson's and sleep

Parkinson's is associated with a number of sleep disturbances:

  • Bed mobility - problems with rolling over in bed
  • Rapid eye movement behavior disorder - a tendency to act out dreams during the periods of rapid eye movement (REM)
  • Restless legs syndrome - an urge to move the legs, especially during the sleeping hours
  • Sleep apnoea - reduced airflow while seeping, causing snoring and disturbed sleep
  • Sleep fragmentation - waking during the night and other disturbed sleep patterns
  • Daytime fatigue, sleepiness and sudden onset sleep episodes

Some of these disturbances may be caused or exacerbated by medications for treating Parkinson's. You are advised to speak to your treating physician about these and other sleep issues.

Parkinson's and mobility

Parkinson's affects many aspects of movement including:

  • Length and height of a person's stride
  • Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Postural instability
  • Falls
  • Freezing of gait
  • Shuffling gait
  • Difficulty in turning

Many strategies can help you maintain your mobility. MSWA's occupational therapy team can assess your mobility issues and your home, and recommend aids such as rails and ramps and other items to help you move about safely.

Our physiotherapy team can develop an exercise program to help you maintain balance, strength and mobility. A program can be designed for you to complete in one of our superbly equipped gyms or at home.

If you're living with Parkinson's disease, MSWA's multidisciplinary team of physiotherapists, speech pathologists, dietitians, occupational therapists, counsellors and social welfare specialists provide a wide spectrum of services and support to help you get the most out of life.

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