“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”Muhammad Ali
In 2011, my mother’s greatest fear came true. At the age of 45, she told me she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. While Parkinson’s disease commonly affects the older population, young-onset often occurs in people younger than 50. Much about Parkinson’s disease is unknown, and, as of today, it has no cure. Yet, many myths about Parkinson’s disease continue to spread.
Is it genetic? There is no conclusive research yet. Does it kill you? It just makes your life harder.
These were among the many questions I had about my mother’s disease. I could not understand what she was going through or why she would fall off balance when I tried to hug her. Parkinson’s disease is important to talk about in families and their communities because disabilities affect people in ways able-bodied individuals cannot understand. It is happening to our spouses, our parents, our children, and our neighbors. Thus, this article will explain Parkinson’s disease (causes and symptoms) and provide a list of resources for people who wish to learn more.
A brain with Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease occurs when “brain cells that make dopamine, a chemical that coordinates movement, stop working, or die.” This drastic change in dopamine levels can lead to stiffness, tremors, balancing problems, and slowness. Non-motor symptoms are often present, as well. A patient may have symptoms of depression, mood swings, cognitive problems, and trouble sleeping.
According to the movement disorder specialist Dr. Rachel Dolhun, it is estimated that 600,000 to 1 million people in the United States are living with Parkinson’s disease–making it one of the most common brain diseases. Age can increase the risk of Parkinson’s, but people 30 or younger can be diagnosed as well.
How is young-onset different?
Individuals diagnosed at a younger age experience a slower progression of symptoms. They also have an increased risk of side effects when taking dopaminergic medications, and an increased risk of abnormal postures such as the arching of the foot. Younger patients can be in the middle of their careers or have children they need to support. Thus, they spend less time on their own health. Many scientists have concluded that the younger the patient is, the more likely their disease is caused by genetic factors. For example, my grandfather had Parkinson’s disease before my middle-aged mother and aunt were diagnosed. It is possible they inherited the gene that increases the likelihood of Parkinson’s. However, some people who carry this genetic mutation never show any symptoms at all. Instead, the cause of young-onset Parkinson’s disease remains a mystery.
Does anything help this movement disorder?
Because of the decrease in dopamine, the number one thing doctors recommend to their patients is exercise. In particular, workout regimes, such as yoga and dancing, not only increases dopamine levels but also help motor functions. Yoga, in particular, helps with balance and mobility. My mother and I often practice yoga together. We motivate each other to keep moving, and I help her whenever she falls. The same applies to Tai Chi and Dance Therapy workshops. There are even YouTube videos that specifically cater to people with Parkinson’s disease.
Nutrition is another important factor. A healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables keeps the body in good physical condition. It can also help stave off the effects of depression, such as mood swings. Beyond exercise and food, massage therapy can aid with muscle stiffness and pain. If it is something that a patient can afford, getting a massage will help relieve the stress and anxiety that comes with Parkinson’s disease. Although there is no cure, finding a new lifestyle that works for each patient will improve their quality of life.
This list provides readers with articles on Parkinson’s disease that encourage learning and seeking out help.
Michael J. Fox, the same man who played Marty McFly in Back to the Future, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 29. Here is a link to his foundation and its research:
The Parkinson’s Foundation provides links and recent news to their website. It is also a good way to donate and volunteer for this medical condition:
A guide that explains Parkinson’s to younger children and teens:
Children’s Books about Parkinson’s:
An article that discusses Dance Therapy and its benefits:
There are so many things I wish I could take back. For example, I could have been more understanding when my mother couldn’t do things, or she did them with difficulty. For me, it is a constant learning process to remember to slow down with her and let her know it is okay. On many occasions, I had to hold her hand so she wouldn’t freeze in the middle of the street.
Despite how other people stare at us, I firmly believe it is acceptable to hold your mother’s hand at any age. I want to thank her for all she has done and will continue to do. I want to thank her for dealing with me when I heard that Muhammad Ali died from Parkinson’s disease and letting me know he actually died of septic shock. She told me that only secondary complications, such as having trouble swallowing, can result in death, and that she would be with me for many years.
I appreciate her, and most importantly, I appreciate people with Parkinson’s disease for continuing to fight even when the future seems bleak. People with Parkinson’s disease can continue to live their lives and spend time with the ones they love.
On this note, I would like to send out hope to everyone who needs it. Because you never know what’s around the corner.