Since Dr. James Parkinson described symptoms of Parkinson’s disease circa 1817, a significant amount of research has made the treatment of this disease much more effective than in past years. Yearly, new medications are being developed to mitigate tremors and the immobility caused by Parkinson’s disease. Research into its cause and development of new therapies to slow and halt the progression of the disorder are bringing new hope to the millions affected by it.
Nonetheless, the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease carries with it the anxiety of permanent disability from loss of mobility. Getting educated about Parkinson’s disease, not giving into myths surrounding its treatment, healthy living, and multidisciplinary care can go a long way in improving your quality of life.
So, what is the first step in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease?
Before Parkinson’s disease can be treated, it must be correctly diagnosed by a neurologist who has skill and expertise in recognizing the symptoms of the disease. A Movement Disorders specialist is a neurologist who has spent time studying and treating the disease.
Explaining the rationale for the diagnosis, thoroughly investigating other diseases that might mimic Parkinson’s disease, and counseling patients and family members about the treatment options available is a critical first step towards dispelling anxiety and misinformation about the disease which may otherwise hinder effective treatment.
Treatment of Parkinson’s disease follow standard guidelines that are observed by specialists, although treatment is customized to the needs of every patient.
Does early treatment of Parkinson’s disease expedite the progression or reduce efficacy of treatment later?
The answer is categorically no. A common misperception is that treatment of Parkinson’s disease with medications such as levodopa, which is the standard of care, may worsen the symptoms, speed up the disease or reduce medication effectiveness down the road.
In fact, early treatment has shown to improve mortality, reduce disability, and maintain patients within the mainstream of life. At diagnosis, there is a significant reduction of dopamine, a critical neurotransmitter, in the brain which must be replenished with appropriate medication.
Can I use exercise and alternative treatments alone to improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?
While there is a widely-accepted and researched benefit to daily exercise for symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, the primary treatment remains medications that have been specifically designed to treat Parkinson’s disease. Exercise is an important adjunct to decrease immobility and improve brain and heart health, all of which improve the outcome of Parkinson’s disease treatment. However, exercise by itself is insufficient.
Alternative medicines, stem cell treatment, gene therapy and other scientifically unfounded methods have absolutely no role in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease presently. In fact, these commonly advertised “snake oil” treatments can be quite expensive and harmful.
What is multidisciplinary care in Parkinson’s disease?
The model of multidisciplinary care treats physical, emotional and cognitive components of the disease and ensures the caregiver’s needs are being addressed. This is done through interactions with the specialist, the clinic staff dedicated to the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, social workers and rehabilitation specialists as the need arises.
So, what’s new in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease?
Oral medications have evolved to improve efficacy of treatment and reduce motor fluctuations which can occur as the disease progresses. A new medication which will be available soon has been designed to bypass the gut by being inhaled through the mouth, reach the brain faster, and act quickly to improve mobility.
For advanced Parkinson’s disease, an intestinal gel delivered directly into the gut through a tube reduces disability by maintaining a steady supply of medication throughout the day.
The most revolutionary treatments for Parkinson’s disease are occurring through brain-machine interfaces which are constantly evolving to provide personalized treatments to patients. Deep brain stimulation of DBS has been around for more than two decades, but the current platforms allow neurologists to improve the efficacy of treatment but minimize side-effects. Focused ultrasound or FUS is a novel incision-less treatment for medication unresponsive tremor in Parkinson’s disease recently approved by the FDA. It involves using highly focused ultrasound to ablate a tiny area of the brain to provide relief from tremor.
Where can I find more information on treatment, research and development of Parkinson’s disease?
Swedish Movement Disorders Program
Learn more about the Swedish Neuroscience Institute, providing leading-edge treatments for conditions of the brain, spine, and central nervous system.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.