Parkinson’s disease is a challenge for the patient and their loved ones, but treatments are available to slow the disease down and affect everyday life.
Alex Hayes: When you have a new patient diagnosed with Parkinson’s, how do you define what it is for them? Kara Wyant, MD: I tell you it is a slowly progressive neurodegenerative disease, which means that a small part of your brain is slowly dying off. In Parkinson’s disease, that’s the dopamine-producing cell and that’s what gives you your symptoms. Alex Hayes: Dr. Nwabuobi, can you just walk me through a list of Parkinson’s disease symptoms? Lynda Nwabuobi, MD: People know a lot about the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. The tremors, the slowness, the shuffling, the masked faces. People may notice that balance is compromised, smaller handwriting that we call micrography, reduced speech volume so that the voice becomes quieter. The other part of Parkinson’s disease is the non-motor symptoms. Some examples are constipation, anxiety, depression, living out your dreams, which is called REM sleep behavior disorder. These are some of the signs we put together when we see a patient to let us know they are likely to have Parkinson’s. Alex Hayes: What are the treatment options if someone has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s? Kara Wyant, MD: Oh, there are many treatment options. So there are dopamine replacement therapies for motor symptoms. So, because you lost that dopamine in your brain, we’re giving it back to you. For some of the other non-motor symptoms we have special drugs that are also approved for these indications in Parkinson’s disease. Alex Hayes: What is Parkinson’s disease and how is it treated? Lynda Nwabuobi, MD: The goal is to keep dopamine at constant levels in the body and brain. But unfortunately, many drugs work in such a way that you take them and then they go up and down again. And when it comes down you see them move and talk and then talk slowly and softly again. Then you say, “Okay, let’s go now.” So the goal is to track your wear and tear phase and take a pill so you don’t wear yourself out completely. Alex Hayes: Outside of medication, are there certain lifestyle changes that someone could implement to relieve symptoms? Kara Wyant, MD: Practice, practice, practice is the big thing that I preach to all my patients because it makes such a big difference. Kara Wyant, MD: Unfortunately, we don’t currently have any drugs that could slow the rate of decline or stop the progression of Parkinson’s disease. But exercise, when you do, can have a positive effect on it. As long as you start exercising and keep going, you can actually delay the balance issues that eventually come with Parkinson’s. Alex Hayes: How important is it to have a close relationship with your neurologist in order to accept treatment or continue treatment? Lynda Nwabuobi, MD: I think it’s very important to have a good relationship with your neurologist. With Parkinson’s, it’s not an easy ride. You are going to need all the support and there are so many organizations and resources out there. The neurologist can be key to connecting you to many of these resources. Kara Wyant, MD: I encourage you to get out there, take action, educate yourself, and then participate in the things that are available to our patients with Parkinson’s disease.
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