April brings us warmer weather, showers, and of course Parkinson’s awareness month. In Canada, some 100,000 people live with Parkinson’s disease.  It is a chronic degenerative neurological disease caused by the loss of production of a chemical called Dopamine in the brain. With less and less dopamine, a person has less ability to regulate their movements, body and emotions. While this disease affects people differently, the most common symptoms are: tremor (or shakiness), slowness and stiffness, impaired balance and muscle stiffness.   Other symptoms include: fatigue, soft speech, problems with handwriting, stooped posture, constipation and sleep disturbances. Loss of smell may also be a sign of Parkinson’s and in fact may precede the shakiness by a number of years.

While there is no cure, you can live with Parkinson’s for years. Some people with Parkinson’s may benefit from surgery. The following therapies can also help manage the symptoms: Physical therapy helps mobility, flexibility and balance; occupational therapy helps with daily activities; speech therapy helps with voice control; exercise helps muscles and joints and improves overall health and well-being.

There are many medications available to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s, although none yet that actually reverse the effects of the disease.  The choice of medications depends greatly on the presenting symptoms, age of the individual and other health issues present.   The timing of medications is often critical to their effectiveness.  If medication isn’t given on time, the ability to manage symptoms may be lost- for example people with Parkinson’s may suddenly not be able to move, get out of bed or walk down a corridor.  Timing of medications such as giving them with high protein meals may also change their effectiveness.  A discussion with your pharmacist can help to make sure you are taking them at the right time.  As the disease is progressive, the symptoms generally progress and may require dose modifications in close consultation with your physician.  In many cases, side effects of the medication, such as low blood pressure, may need to be treated by other medications. It is always important to involve your doctor before making any changes. Take care of yourselves and each other.