Vail Daily column: Early diagnosis aids Parkinson’s treatment

Judson Haims

As a neurological disorder, Parkinson’s disease rates near Alzheimer’s disease as one of the most common of the neurodegenerative disorders in our elderly. This disease, not easily diagnosed, happens when certain neurons in the midbrain that control muscle movement begin to die. Once this process begins, there is no turning back.

Early detection and treatment can help slow the onset of the many symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, but early detection is difficult since many of the symptoms are also found in other diseases. For example, dementia can be a symptom that is also common in Alzheimer’s disease. Blood work and MRIs will aid in the diagnosis, but it is tricky and should only be handled by the most skilled and trained physicians.

We all might be familiar with the “shaking” Parkinson’s disease patients tend to display. However, we should be aware that Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, long-term illness that again displays many symptoms in addition to shaking that is shared by other illnesses (i.e., reduced balance, slowness of movement, muscle stiffness and some cognitive impairment).

Considering that Parkinson’s disease is chronic and irreversible, treatment tends to focus on medications as one of the primary treatment forms. Dopamine agonists (medications that resemble dopamine) and levodopa/carbidopa have been two of the most popular medications in this treatment regimen. Other areas of treatment, such as deep-brain surgery (deep brain stimulation systems can be located in the thalamus, pallidum, and subthalamic nucleus), are also used but generally only as a last resort.

In addition to medications, physical therapy and exercise provide relief from some of the symptoms and aid in keeping the body limber and moving without as much stiffness.

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Daily exercise has proven to aid greatly in one’s ability to maintain and improve mobility, flexibility, balance and range of motion. Physical therapy can also help provide a greater sense of normalization for Parkinson’s disease patients. For example, there are techniques for the best way to get out of bed, move from a chair to a standing position or get in and out of a car more easily.

As the disease progresses, rehabilitation can also focus on more specific areas of daily functioning (such as buttoning shirts, cooking or even bathing techniques using grab bars, etc). All these rehabilitation techniques are geared toward creating, or maintaining, as much independence as possible.

The future treatment in nearly any debilitating and progressive disease depends largely on research, and that notion is not lost on Parkinson’s disease. The Maryland Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center is constantly exploring new treatments for Parkinson’s disease, as well as offering diagnostic and treatment services. Obviously much of their research revolves around actual testing with Parkinson’s disease patients, thus many volunteers must be willing to submit to new and untested forms of medications and treatments. These “research trials” are well planned and often result with participants having more positive outcomes than those receiving placebos.

As with any disorder, the most important step is proper diagnosis, followed by treatment and then close follow-up monitoring. Parkinson’s disease is clearly no different in that realm.

Be aware of changes in behaviors, mood and any variation from the “normal” routines of anyone you might suspect having some illness that is not clearly diagnosed. Oftentimes, it is simply the best approach to bring that person to a physician and continue to watch and monitor their changes.

Early diagnosis and treatment can positively alter the lives of those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. His contact information is, 970-328-5526.

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