What You Need To Know About Parkinson’s Disease


Q. My brother has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 53. Is this very young? What can be done to help him? Am I at greater risk?

A. Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition for which there is currently no cure. It is caused by a lack of dopamine in the brain due to the death of nerve cells. Symptoms may vary greatly from day to day. According to the charity Parkinson’s UK, up to one in 20 of those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year are under 40.

Tremor (shaking) affects about 70 per cent of people with Parkinson’s. It often starts in one hand, spreads up the arm and then to the foot on that side of the body. It usually occurs when a person’s muscles are relaxed and improves when they start an activity. In the early stages, squeezing or rolling a ball or pen in the hand can suppress a tremor.

Other common symptoms are slowness of movement and muscle stiffness. Less visible symptoms include sleep difficulties, depression and anxiety, as well as constipation and sweating.

Parkinson’s may affect talking, walking and swallowing. Being unable to do such everyday things can make this a frustrating and isolating condition. Drugs are the most common treatment. They help to manage the symptoms, including tremor, but do not stop its progression. Ideally, patients should have access to a Parkinson’s nurse, who could help to manage symptoms and provide emotional support. Research into gene therapy and stem cell therapy is ongoing. It’s hoped that these may slow down or halt the condition.

Exercise and an active lifestyle help with movement, balance and mood. Singing and amateur dramatics can aid breathing and speech. The exact cause is not known. According to Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Innovation at Parkinson’s UK, ‘It is likely to be a combination of genetic susceptibility and an external trigger.’

It’s extremely rare for relatives to develop Parkinson’s. Although scientists have identified 16 genes linked to Parkinson’s so far, only about five in every 100 cases have a genetic component. So even if an abnormal gene is involved, the likelihood of you being affected is very slight.

Parkinson’s Awareness Week starts tomorrow For advice and links to local Parkinson’s support groups, visit parkinsons.org.uk or call their free helpline on 0808 800 0303.


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It’s actress Amanda Mealing’s 45th birthday next Sunday (22 April). ‘I thought I would be celebrating in style but I’m actually going to be a sweaty pink mess.’ Amanda is running the 2012 Virgin London Marathon, in aid of Breast Cancer Care (BCC). Together with The Prostate Cancer Charity, BCC is the official joint charity (Team PB) and they aim to raise more than £1 million for research.

Amanda – well known to Holby City fans as heart surgeon Connie Beauchamp – had never run before. ‘I trained as a dancer and we weren’t allowed to run.’ Last September, she couldn’t run one minute at a time – by January she was doing three. ‘But I couldn’t get past that. The race is 26.2 miles and I was beginning to panic.’ Her breakthrough came when she began running with a friend – ‘Her chatting and me gasping for breath. Now I do 13 miles, then call back at my house and my boys Milo, 12, and Otis, 11, hop on their bikes and come as my outriders for the second half. I’m completely hooked.’

Amanda was hoping to complete the circuit in four and a half hours, but after an injury from overtraining, ‘I will just be grateful to get round’. Like Amanda, YOU staff member Tara Crean is also running for Team PB. To sponsor Tara or Amanda visit teampb.org.uk


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