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April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month

April is recognized nationally as Parkinson’s Awareness Month, bringing attention to a a neurological condition that impacts movement, affecting approximately 10 million people worldwide. While Parkinson’s has no cure, understanding the basics of the disease is crucial for those diagnosed and for their loved ones.

The primary culprit behind Parkinson’s is the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in regulating movement and coordination. Symptoms typically start slowly. Tremors are common, but the disorder may also cause stiffness, slowing of movements and difficulty with balance. Some patients can experience non-movement symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, depression and speech problems.

Treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms. To achieve this, doctors commonly prescribe medications that enhance dopamine level. Physical therapy helps maintain mobility and manage stiffness. Experts often recommend a combination of treatments from a collaborative team of providers, tailored to patients’ individual needs. Emotional and mental well-being are just as important as physical symptoms. Patients commonly experience mood changes and challenges related to daily activities. Support groups, counseling and engaging in activities that bring joy can help patients keep a positive outlook.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also beneficial. While none of the available Parkinson’s treatments slow the rate of progression, several studies have demonstrated that exercise does help. It is by far one of the best things that people with Parkinson’s can do for themselves. Experts recommend moderate intensity aerobic exercise for five 30-minute sessions each week.

Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s, a patient’s symptoms can be managed and even improve through treatment options that include medications, lifestyle adjustments and surgery. While Parkinson’s itself is not fatal, disease complications can be serious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies Parkinson’s disease as the 14th leading cause of death in the U.S.

TAREK ALI, M.D., is a neurologist with the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute and assistant professor in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

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