1.4 What is Parkinson’s?

We have looked at the different conditions that come under the umbrella term ‘parkinsonism’. The rest of this course focuses on the condition that affects most people – Parkinson’s.

Imagine what your life would be like if your brain wanted to send your body a message, but it couldn’t get through. Or if you wanted to speak, but you couldn’t get the words out. Or if you wanted to walk, but your legs were fixed to the spot.

It’s neurological

Parkinson’s is neurological. People get it because some of the nerve cells in their brains that produce a chemical called dopamine have died. This lack of dopamine means that people can have great difficulty controlling their movement.

The three main motor symptoms of Parkinson’s are tremor (a resting tremor and an action tremor), rigidity (stiffness) and slowness of movement. These are called motor symptoms.

But the condition doesn’t only affect mobility. People living with the condition can also experience non-motor symptoms, including fatigue, pain, memory problems, depression, constipation and many others. Non-motor symptoms can have a huge impact on the day-to-day lives of people with the condition.

It’s progressive

Parkinson’s gets worse over time and it can be difficult to predict how quickly the condition will progress. For most people, it can take years for the condition to get to a point where it can cause major problems. For others, Parkinson’s may progress more quickly.

Treatment and medication can help to manage the symptoms, but may become less effective in the later stages of the condition. There is currently no cure.

Generally, Parkinson’s is considered to have four stages: diagnosis, maintenance, advanced (often called the ‘complex phase’) and palliative. We will look at the different stages of Parkinson’s towards the end of this section.

It can fluctuate

Not everyone with Parkinson’s experiences the same combination of symptoms – they can vary from person to person and progress at a different speed. This means that no two people will follow exactly the same treatment routine.

Also, how Parkinson’s affects someone can change from day to day, and even from hour to hour – symptoms that may be noticeable one day may not be a problem the next. This can cause frustration for both the person with Parkinson’s and their carer or family.

Because of the fluctuating nature of Parkinson’s, it is vital that care needs are not assessed in just one visit. We will look at the fluctuating nature of Parkinson’s in more detail in Section 2 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Think about what you have learnt so far. How might you feel if you had to live with Parkinson’s?

Use your reflection log to write down in 150–200 words how you might feel if you were unable to control your movement. There are no right or wrong answers – just be honest.

1.3 What is parkinsonism?

1.5 What causes Parkinson’s?