Q& A

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - ADVICE -

PMy hus­band’s brother — who he is very close to — has just been di­ag­nosed with Parkin­son’s

dis­ease. He is only in his late fifties. Although our fam­i­lies are close, we don’t have much in­for­ma­tion about the di­ag­no­sis as he doesn’t want to talk about it. My hus­band is very wor­ried about him and doesn’t know what to ex­pect in the years ahead. He’s also con­cerned for our fam­ily — he is wor­ried that the ill­ness may run in fam­i­lies and that it might af­fect our own chil­dren later on in life. Can you give him any in­for­ma­tion about what he can ex­pect for his brother, and are there any new

treat­ments or break­throughs which we could point his brother to­wards? ARKINSON’S dis­ease is a chronic pro­gres­sive neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion. It is thought to af­fect about one in 500 peo­ple and oc­curs more com­monly in men than women. Symp­toms more com­monly oc­cur in those over the age of 50 but it can also oc­cur in younger peo­ple. The ac­tor Michael J. Fox was di­ag­nosed at a young age and has done a lot to raise the pro­file of this dis­ease.

Parkin­son’s dis­ease oc­curs due to the loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain called the sub­stan­tia ni­gra, which re­sults in re­duced lev­els of the neu­ro­trans­mit­ter dopamine. This hor­mone as­sists in smooth move­ment of the body. When lev­els of dopamine are re­duced by 60pc to 80pc clas­sic move­ment symp­toms of Parkin­son’s may oc­cur. It is thought to take many years for this re­duc­tion to oc­cur so re­search to­day is try­ing to iden­tify ways to di­ag­nose this be­fore dopamine lev­els have dropped so low.

There are many symp­toms that may sug­gest Parkin­son’s dis­ease. Los­ing your sense of smell may be an early symp­tom and can oc­cur many years be­fore oth­ers ap­pear. Con­sti­pa­tion may oc­cur as move­ment through the gut slows. There may be some dif­fi­culty swal­low­ing foods or a feel­ing of things oc­ca­sion­ally catch­ing in the throat. The arms tend not to swing when walk­ing in those with Parkin­son’s dis­ease. There may also be a change in fa­cial fea­tures of­ten re­ferred to as a “masked face”. This re­sults in a stern look and lack of fa­cial ex­pres­sion. This can be as­so­ci­ated with a blank stare and re­duced blink­ing. Speech changes oc­cur. Speech may be­come soft or hoarse and oc­ca­sion­ally slurred. Bal­ance prob­lems and dizzi­ness can be symp­toms of the con­di­tion or may also oc­cur as a side ef­fect of Parkin­son’s med­i­ca­tion. Writ­ing may be­come very small.

Men­tal symp­toms in­clude anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, mem­ory prob­lems in some and sleep prob­lems.

The clas­sic symp­toms of Parkin­son’s re­main the pres­ence of a tremor,

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