Receive your 12th week for free

When you start your care journey by 30 September 2024.

Back to Knowledge Hub

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition. It is an illness with symptoms that become more noticeable over time, as parts of the brain become damaged. This damage not only causes motor (movement) symptoms but also non-motor symptoms.

According to Parkinson’s UK, around one in 37 people living in the UK today will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s at some point during their lifetime. Two more people are diagnosed with the illness every hour.

What Are the Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease?

Now we’ve answered, ‘what is Parkinson’s disease?’, we can begin to explore and understand the symptoms in more depth. There are multiple symptoms associated with it, but three main ones.

These are:

  • Experiencing shaking involuntarily in particular parts of the body (known as tremors).
  • Slower or less co-ordinated movement than normal.
  • A feeling of stiffness and inflexibility in your muscles.

However, it’s important to remember that someone affected by Parkinson’s may also experience issues with balance, as well as non-motor symptoms, such as a loss of smell, sleeping problems, difficulties with memory, depression and anxiety.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease impact different people in different ways. For some people, the development of these symptoms may be quite gradual – only becoming noticeable over time. For others, the progression may be quicker.

Not everyone diagnosed with Parkinson’s will experience the same symptoms either. Even amongst those people who are affected by the same symptoms, some will be impacted severely and others less so.

What Are the Causes of Parkinson's Disease?

The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but constant research and developments help us to understand the signs and signals of how to spot it.

We know that it occurs because of the loss of nerve cells in the substantia nigra part of the brain. The substantia nigra plays a vital part in producing a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine itself helps to regulate the movement of our bodies – which is why a lack of it leads to many of the motor symptoms experienced by those affected by Parkinson’s.

When it comes to what causes these nerve cells to die, this is something medical research organisations and charities are still working hard to understand. Some researchers believe a combination of age, genetic and environmental factors are behind it.

Who Can Get Parkinson's Disease?

Most people living with Parkinson’s will start to experience symptoms when they’re over the age of 50. However, people can also experience the symptoms of the illness when they’re under the age of 50. This form of Parkinson’s is known as Young Onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD).

Research has also shown that men are slightly more likely to develop Parkinson’s than women.

What Are the Types of Parkinson's Disease?

Each form of the illness falls under the umbrella term ‘parkinsonism’, but they all share many similar symptoms.

There are three main forms: 

Idiopathic Parkinson’s: Also referred to simply as Parkinson’s, it’s the form most people with parkinsonism have. The idiopathic part of its name simply means that its cause is unknown.

Vascular Parkinsonism: You might see this form called arteriosclerotic parkinsonism. It impacts those with a restricted supply of blood to their brain. People who’ve had a mild stroke are amongst those who may be affected by it.

Drug-Induced Parkinsonism: Parkinsonism can be caused by drugs. The biggest ones are neuroleptic drugs – those used to treat people affected by schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders. These drugs help to reduce excess dopamine levels in the brain. It only impacts a very small number of people – the majority of whom recover when they’ve stopped taking the medication causing it.

The other forms of parkinsonism include multiple system atrophy (MSA), progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and normal pressure hydrocephalus.

Young Onset Parkinson’s disease is less common and experienced by those under the age of 50. It’s diagnosed with a very similar set of symptoms to regular Parkinson’s, including tremors, muscular rigidity, impaired balance, and slow movement, as well as similar non-motor symptoms.

Treatment for Parkinson's Disease

While there isn’t currently a cure for Parkinson’s, there are many treatments available to help those diagnosed with it continue to enjoy a good quality of life. These treatments include medication, supportive therapies (physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and general dietary advice) and, less frequently, surgery.

Parkinson's Support in the UK

There’s lots of support available to people impacted by Parkinson’s. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with the illness, or you’re caring for someone who has, there are many support groups, networks and charities across the UK that can help.

Home adaptations, specialist equipment or living aids make it possible for those living with the illness to remain in the place they know best – their own home. Community alarm schemes also help people to live independently, but without having to worry about having an accident while on their own.

However, with the progressive nature of Parkinson’s, those affected may require some extra support with day-to-day life as the illness and its symptoms become more advanced. This additional support can take the form of sheltered or retirement housing, care provided by a loved one or carer, or tailored care delivered in a specialist care home.

If you’d to learn more about how Avery’s Parkinson’s care homes and how we can help you or your loved one, find your nearest care home or get in touch with our friendly team of specialists by calling 0800 012 9113.