This is a disease that affects many people in the United States today and has for many years. Parkinson’s will continue to be a disease of mystery because the causes and cures have yet to be discovered. I have had a direct relationship with the unpredictable and incurable disease, which resulted in the death of my great grandfather. I watched as the effects of Parkinson’s strengthened over years resulting in the formation of a man that I no longer knew. This was my motivation for this paper; I wanted to discover what was happening to my grandfather, which changed my life and his life forever. Parkinson’s was first described in 1817 by British physician James Parkinson in his Essay on the Shaking Palsy (Fahn, 1999).
Various types of this disease are now recognized but the most common form is Parkinson’s disease. It is also called idiopathic Parkinsonism because the cause of nuerodegeneration and this form of the disorder is unknown(Clinical Reference Systems, 1999). The average age of onset of Parkinson’s disease is 55 years of age although it can occur at younger ages such as in Michael J. Fox’s case(Fahn, 1999). Parkinson’s affects nearly one million Americans such as two in every one-thousand people but only ten percent of the cases are of whom develop symptoms before the age of forty (Cummings, 1999).
Parkinson’s produces an annual cost of twenty billion dollars in treatment and medication. Parkinson’s or shaking palsy is described as an insidious disease that threatens one’s quality of life as it progresses. It is classified as a chronic disease, meaning you will have it the rest of your life, and is also progressive resulting in symptoms growing worse on an average of ten to twenty years. The disease will become disabling but one will not die because of Parkinson’s, rather you will die with the disease. Although we do not know why the disease occurs, we do know what exactly happens and evolves from Parkinson’s.
Parkinsonism results from the deterioration of neurons in the region for the brain called the substantia nigra. In this part of the brain the neurons normally produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which sends signals to the basal ganglia, a mass of nerve fibers that help to initiate and control patterns of movement (Fahn, 1999). Dopamine functions in the brain as an inhibitor of nerve impulses and is involved in suppressing unintended movement. When the dopamine-producing neurons are damaged of destroyed, dopamine levels drop and the normal signaling system is disrupted (Fahn,1999).
Insufficient dopamine disturbs the balance between dopamine and other transmitters, such as acetylcholine. Without dopamine the nerve cells cannot properly transmit messages, which can result in the loss of muscle function. The disease may affect one of both sides of the body, as it advances the immune system weakens, resulting in development of ulcers, pneumonia, and swallowing can be impaired. Most patients do not die from Parkinson’s rather for unrelated, natural causes. The disease itself will never disappear and will always be present in the body. As a result of the depletion of dopamine, Parkinson’s patients suffer from many symptoms which only increase over time.
The major symptom of Parkinson’s is tremors. A tremor is a rhythmic shaking over which one has no control (Clinical Reference Systems, 1999). Tremors of the hands and sometimes the head often occur along with a constant rubbing together of the thumb and forefinger. In some cases tremors can become so intense that patients have difficulty doing many common activities such as eating, sleeping, and speaking.
Tremors are not the only symptoms of the disease, many people suffer form muscle rigidity and loss of balance, resulting in a difficulty walking and writing (Clinical Reference Systems, 1999). The other aspects of Parkinson’s are changes in facial expressions such as a mask appearance, staring, voice and speech changes, and difficulty speaking. These are all signs of Parkinson’s but diagnoses and treatment