Although no cure exists for Parkinson’s disease, there are medical therapies and preventive measures to help ease its progression.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Parkinson’s disease affects more than 500,000 Americans–and at least 50,000 Kentuckians. It is a neurological disease, most often of older people, that progressively impairs control of body movement and often leads to rigid immobility.
Symptoms include tremors, stiff limbs, slow or absent movement, lack of facial expressions, a shuffling gait, and a distinctive stooped posture. Depression and an impaired ability to think may also develop. These symptoms result from the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain that produce the chemical dopamine.
Although treatment with the drugs levodopa and carbidopa can almost completely restore normal movement to many with early Parkinson’s disease, the treatment gradually loses effectiveness as the disease progresses, says Greg Gerhardt, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology and Department of Neurology, director of the Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Disease Research Center of Excellence, and director of the Center for Sensor Technology.
Along with medications, there are other things patients can do to help themselves during the progression of their disease. Gerhardt recommends these home tips:
Tips for the home
- In the bathroom, use grab bars and arm rails in the tub and on the toilet; use a bath chair or stool in the shower; and don’t use throw rugs or wax on the floor.
- In the kitchen, keep floors clean but not slippery; store the most-used supplies in convenient locations; and use long-handled sponges or mops to wipe up spills. In the living room, arrange furniture with adequate space to hold onto while walking; and use chairs with straight backs and armrests.
- In the bedroom, keep the bed at knee height; hang a metal triangle over the head of the bed to help change positions; and install a railing on the wall to help enter and exit the bed.
- Other everyday-life tips include keeping a cordless phone handy rather than reaching for a wall phone; installing rails on all stairwells; wearing clothes with elastic waistbands; avoiding clothes with small buttons or snaps; and wrapping wide tape around handles for a firmer grip.
As for the future, there are many clinical and scientific endeavors to help Parkinson’s disease patients.
“Scientific and clinical research is focused on repairing and restoring function to dying dopamine cells in patients with Parkinson’s disease,” Gerhardt says. “We are trying to develop more effective medications to slow or prevent progression of the disease.”