What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a common condition that is estimated to affect at least 1 percent of people aged 60 and over around the world. It is the most common motor brain disease, and the second most common age-related degenerative brain disease after Alzheimer’s. It is important to understand Parkinson’s disease and how it impacts those who have it.


Parkinson’s disease is an age-related degenerative brain condition. Parkinson’s causes a decrease of dopamine levels in the brain, which can lead to motor issues such as tremors and slowed movements. It is possible to develop Parkinson’s at an early age, but it mainly affects older adults. The average age for onset of Parkinson’s is 60 years old. There is no cure for Parkinson’s, but different treatment options can help with symptoms.


The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the development of this condition. Around 10 percent of cases are genetic and the remaining 90 percent are idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. Experts believe that idiopathic Parkinson’s may develop due to issues with how the body uses alpha-synuclein proteins. Proteins are molecules that have very specific shapes. When the proteins do not have the correct shape, the body cannot use them or break them down. These proteins can then build up and this can lead to cell damage and toxic effects. Experts have found some potential reasons that the condition develops, such as genetics or issues with the alpha-synuclein proteins in the body, but the exact cause of Parkinson’s is still not known for certain.


Early signs of Parkinson’s can be mild, such as a slight tremor in one hand. Symptoms often begin on one side of the body and remain worse on that side. Parkinson’s disease can appear differently for everyone, but there are common symptoms to watch out for. Tremors are one of the common symptoms. Other symptoms of Parkinson’s may include slowed movement, speech and writing changes, rigid muscles, impaired balance and posture, loss of sense of smell, sleep issues, blinking less than usual, gastrointestinal problems, drooling, and trouble with swallowing. Cognitive issues can also occur. Over time, some people with Parkinson’s may develop dementia, delusions, or hallucinations. It is important to see a medical professional if any of these symptoms are present.


There is not a specific test to diagnose Parkinson’s. Getting a diagnosis generally involves a medical professional examining symptoms, asking questions, and reviewing medical history. Diagnostic and lab tests may be done, but these are typically needed for ruling out other conditions. Some tests that can be done include blood tests, CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, or genetic testing. There are also newer ways to test for potential indicators of Parkinson’s that involve the alpha-synuclein proteins. A spinal tap can allow for a healthcare provider to look for misfolded proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid. A skin biopsy can also be done to analyze the alpha-synuclein proteins and determine if there is a malfunction that could increase risk of Parkinson’s. While there is no specific test for Parkinson’s, different tests can be done to help medical professionals diagnose this condition. 


There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but medication, lifestyle changes, and surgery are treatment options. Medications are the main way to treat the condition. Medications can help to increase dopamine levels and have effects on other neurotransmitters. They can also help with controlling non-movement symptoms that may be present. Another treatment option is deep brain stimulation. This can be done for those who do not respond well to medication. This involves implanting electrodes in the brain that are connected to a device in the chest. These painlessly stimulate areas of the brain that control movement, which can help with motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s. Other types of therapies and lifestyle changes can also help, such as physical therapy, speech therapy, massages, and exercises.


There is still a lot that is unknown about Parkinson’s disease, but scientists are continuing to research this condition to get a better understanding of it. Additionally, there have been breakthroughs in treatment and care which have allowed for better management of Parkinson’s. Since there have been advancements in treatment, those with Parkinson’s now have a longer life expectancy. Scientists also continue to research potential ways to slow or stop the disease from progressing. For example, they are exploring ways to identify biomarkers for Parkinson’s that may lead to earlier diagnosis and tailored treatments that slow the process of this disease. Scientists continue to learn more about Parkinson’s disease and make important breakthroughs.


Parkinson’s disease itself is not fatal. Symptoms and effects can be contributing factors to death, but life expectancy has increased over the years. In 1967, the average life expectancy for those with Parkinson’s was a little under 10 years. Now, the average life expectancy is over 14.5 years, meaning it has increased by more than 45%. Since Parkinson’s disease typically starts at age 60 or older, life expectancy is not affected by more than a few years. With Parkinson’s, it is important to take medications as prescribed and see a healthcare provider as recommended, or if any changes occur. There are several ways to treat Parkinson’s and manage symptoms. Due to advancements in treatment, those with this condition can live for years or decades with it.


Hallucinations and delusions. Parkinson’s UK. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.parkinsons.org.uk/information-and-support/hallucinations-and-delusions-side-effect 

Parkinson’s Disease. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8525-parkinsons-disease-an-overview

Parkinson’s disease. Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20376055

What is Parkinson’s? Parkinson’s Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/what-is-parkinsons