Anti aging guide

Parkinson’s disease and the Brain



What cause Parkinson’s disease and how to treat it?

Parkinson’s disease is another scourge of late life which is much feared, with considerable justification, by elderly people. It is rare in people aged under 50 but affects about 1.5 per cent of the population over 60. It develops extremely insidiously, quite unlike a stroke, and the patient may conclude that he or she is slowing up, simply ‘due to age’. One of the main features is shaking of the hands, arms, legs, and occasionally jaw, tongue, head, and even trunk, which often starts asymmetrically and comes on when sitting idly, is at its worst in front of other people, is improved by purposeful activity, and disappears during sleep. This tremor gives the game away, but it can be confused with other types of tremor, and anyway is not invariably present. The other principal features are much less obvious and comprise stiffness and slowness of movement. These lead on to an unstable, shuffling gait, and falls; and to an unblinking, expressionless face, a feeble voice, drooling, impaired handwriting, constipation, and muscle weakness and pain.

This is one of those mysterious diseases of the brain, like Alzheimer’s disease, in which a group of cells dies off causing a loss of vital neurotransmitters, in this case dopamine, and by the time the disease appears there has probably been an 80 per cent reduction. Why the cells die is unknown and it seems to have very little to do with heredity. Sometimes the action of dopamine is blocked by other drugs, notably tranquillizers, and occasionally toxic substances or repeated trauma cause the disease in younger people, but the viral encephalitis that caused a large number of cases earlier this century is no longer prevalent.

Treatment is often very effective. Physiotherapy can be extremely helpful, but when the patient is handicapped it is usual also to give a drug which increases brain dopamine levels. These include levodopa which is converted into dopamine, and selegeline, which enhances the quantity available. Other agents act as dopamine supporters. Perhaps two thirds of patients make a good response. Speech therapy can also be effective. Unfortunately it remains true that the illness is progressive and perhaps after five years or so one is likely to run into trouble. Much research is being done on Parkinson’s disease, including work on the ethical minefield of fetal brain cell transplantation. These cells do not provoke the rejection reaction that adult tissue causes, and they can settle in and thrive in their new environment: encouraging results have been reported from Sweden, but research is still at an early stage.

Posted by Carol Hudgens - May 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm