Parkinson’s Awareness Month

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Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition which causes the brain to progressively decline in health and function over time. Experts are still not able to explain why some people develop Parkinson’s and some don’t but it is known that a characteristic of the disease is a build-up of an improperly folded protein in the brain. 

This protein, causes cells to die and gradually causes the development of Parkinson’s disease. Manifesting in symptoms such as tremors, slow movement, lack of coordination, stiffness and lack of muscle flexibility, the disease is a growing globally with 6.2 million reported cases as of 2016.

Parkinson’s disease affects the motor cortex of the central nervous system (CNS) – the area that controls planning, control, and execution of voluntary movements. There is no cure for Parkinson’s till date, but treatments are available to alleviate symptoms and maintain quality of life for as long as possible. Although this disease is non-communicable and cannot spread through contact with pathogens, researchers classify it as a new “pandemic” as it is communicable via new world vectors such as social, political, and economic trends. With an increase in all regions of the world, the burden of Parkinson’s disease appears to be shifting from the global East to West and growing in response to an aging population and rapid industrialization, thus migrating like a Pandemic.

“Parkinson’s disease may be a creation of our time.”

The growth of industrialisation, aging populations, increasing longevity, and declining smoking rates could be causing an increase in risk of Parkinson’s according to research. There is still large-scale use of harmful substances that have proven to be linked to the disease; for example pesticides, paraqat, trichloroethylene use across various countries. "Numerous by-products of the Industrial Revolution, including specific pesticides, solvents, and heavy metals, have been linked to Parkinson disease." While the burden of other disease seems to decrease with improving socioeconomic levels, the burden of Parkinson’s disease seems to do the opposite.

Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease

According to the European Parkinson’s Disease Association; “Parkinsonism is the umbrella term given to a group of conditions that feature Parkinson’s-type symptoms: slowness of movement (bradykinesia), tremor and stiffness of muscles. About 85% of people with Parkinsonism have Parkinson’s (sometimes called idiopathic Parkinson’s), which is the most common form.”

Contrary to popular belief, this degenerative disease can affect people of any age, not just older people. Young onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD) account for about 20% reported cases and is mainly prevalent in people of working age, diagnosed in their 30’s or 40’s. Being diagnosed early in life poses unique challenges for not only the person, but their family and friends. Many affected people have young children, are financial responsibilities or are carers for others. While most young people diagnosed with Parkinson’s continue to work, they require flexible work environments to accommodate for movement disorders and over time may give up working as symptoms progress. For the best quality of life possible, people who are diagnosed with YOPD can benefit from educating themselves and being as knowledgeable and involved in the management and prognosis of their condition as possible.

Coffee and Cigarettes

A recent population-based study showed that increased cigarette smoking for a longer period of time leads to decreased risk of developing Parkinson’s. The study, “Exploring causality of the association between smoking and Parkinson’s disease,” was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

This link is supported by significant evidence in both males and females and children of smoker parents have shown lower risk as well. The evidence extends to cigarettes, pipes, cigars and smokeless tobacco.

Scientists caution people as to the interpretation of this and claim that this is no encouragement to smoke. It is, however, grounds for further study into which compounds in tobacco provide the benefits.

The link between coffee and Parkinson’s development has been a topic of much debate over the years. But it turns out your morning cuppa Joe could be beneficial for more than just a dose of energy. Recent studies show that drinking coffee leads to lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

Both caffeinated and de-caffeinated coffee had similar results in protecting the brain from the degenerative effects common in Parkinson’s. Scientists believe that other molecules in coffee including coffee have a role to play in this protection. Coffee consists of several hundred compounds that have the potential to interact with the chemistry of the body. There is a great deal more of research that has to be done to fully understand the various ways in which coffee can protect the brain.

There are several resources available online that provide information and support. Visit Parkinson’s Australia for more information or read more on finding a support worker to help you or your family cope with a Parkinson’s diagnosis.

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