Did you know that complications from Parkinson’s disease are the 14th leading cause of death in the United States? More than 10 million people are living with various stages of the disease worldwide, with no cure in sight. While men are 1.5 times more at risk for being diagnosed, this degenerative disorder claims individuals of any sex or race, but more are diagnosed over the age of 50. But what causes Parkinson’s? How does it progress and what are the treatment protocols for each of its stages? As the disease progresses, it ravages nerve cells and deeply affects parts of the brain responsible for controlling body movement. These parts of the brain affected by Parkinson’s are called the basal ganglia and the substantia nigra As these important neurological components in the brain continue to deteriorate, the body begins having problems regulating movement. Issues like tremors, chronic stiffness, slowness and even emerging complications with balance become increasingly prevalent and those living with the disease.
What Causes Parkinson’s?
The cause of Parkinson’s is widely unknown, and while there is no cure yet, advancements in treatment and diagnoses are helping maintain a better quality of life for those affected. Because Parkinson’s predominantly affects dopamine-producing (dopaminergic) neurons in the brain, Doctors rely heavily on medications and treatment plans that utilize dopaminergic pharmaceuticals. While most people don’t begin to show symptoms until later stages of Parkinson’s, it’s important to know what to look for and how to identify them. As the disease progresses, changes in motor and non-motor function can be affected. This means that a person’s movement (walking, speaking, etc.) being affected goes hand in hand with cognitive function. This may include symptoms like depression, sleep behavior, and even smell or taste.
What are the Stages of Parkinson’s Disease?
Oftentimes, the disease is not diagnosed until symptoms are more advanced. So how does the disease progress? Knowing what to look for and how Parkinson’s impacts the human body can help those living with it get a diagnosis quicker, and can help their medical team address and treat their symptoms more effectively. The 2 most commonly used methods for rating the stages of Parkinson’s are the Hoene and Yahr scale, and the United Parkinson’s Disease scale. Below is an outline of stages based on the Hoene and Yahr scale.
- Stage 1 – Symptoms are mild, and in many cases, the individual may not seek out medical advice. In some cases, symptoms may be so mild that medical professionals may not find a diagnosis. Interestingly, symptoms are unilateral, so only one side of the body will be affected. Symptoms can include tremors, rigidity, leg clumsiness and it may even impact one side of the person’s face.
- Stage 2 – While still considered mild, symptoms will now begin to affect both sides of the body. It may sometimes also focus near the midline, but people in stage 2 may be affected by loss of facial expression, speech impairment, and a decrease in blinking, as well as other changes in motor and non-motor functions.
- Stage 3 – These symptoms are considered moderate and may include compromised balance and an inability to make rapid movement adjustments. These symptoms are also in conjunction with symptoms from previous stages of the disease.
- Stage 4 – Considered the first severe stage, previous symptoms are more pronounced and individuals with the disease will have serious impairment both in motor and non-motor functions. Most people in this stage require assistance living day to day.
- Stage 5 – This advanced and final stage of Parkinson’s disease include symptoms that include fall risk during walking or even standing. Individuals may freeze or stumble while mobile, and the cognitive function deteriorates even farther with the potential for hallucinations and delusions.
How do We Find a Cure?
While millions of people live with, or are caring for someone with this degenerative neurological disorder, treatment can help ease the effects of this tragic disorder. Through research and medical funding we hope to find a cure. To better propel research and science forward, the United Brain Association has teamed up with Gregory Pontone, MD, MHS. Dr. Pontone is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His title includes the Attending Psychiatrist in the Geriatric and Neuropsychiatry Division and he resides as Director of the Johns Hopkins Parkinson’s Disease Neuropsychiatry Clinic.