While working at my local nursing home I noticed that some of the residents were shaking a lot. I asked one of the staff why this was and discovered that several had Parkinson’s disease. Intrigued by these unsettling tremors that are shown persistently throughout my visits, I decided to look into the condition.
Parkinson’s disease is a result of the loss of nerve cells in the brain, leading to a reduction in the amount of a chemical called dopamine. What actually causes this loss is still unclear, although experts claim that it’s linked to genetic and environmental factors.
Symptoms commonly develop in people over the age of 50, and there are 127,000 people in the UK with the condition. This suggests why the residents I am working with have the disease, as it blatantly affects a multitude of older people. Involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body, slow movement and inflexible muscles are a few of the symptoms that doctors use to diagnose the problem, however the disease develops slowly as the brain becomes progressively damaged over many years.
The disease currently has no cure; however there are various treatments which the residents at my nursing home undertake. The nurse told me particularly that many are on medication which improves their symptoms but does not cure the condition. Many are on Levodopa, a medicine absorbed by the nerve cells in your brain turning it into the chemical dopamine. This chemical is used to transmit messages between parts of the brain and controls the nervous system. Hence, increasing dopamine, improves movement problems.
The people I observed with the condition still suffered quite severe symptoms even though they have been taking medication for years. After researching the disease I discovered that levodopa does not have a long-lasting effect, because as more nerve cells in the brain are lost, there are fewer of them to absorb the medicine. Therefore, long term use of levodopa can cause jerky muscle movements, aka dyskinesia, as well as a condition where the person will suddenly switch from being able to move to being immobile.
This presents the need for a cure of Parkinson’s disease with medication only having a short-term impact. Indeed, this is in process with clinical trails and research through organisations such as Parkinson’s UK, who since 1969 have invested more than £65 million into research. Of course this charity could not exist without generous donations and volunteers. With one in every 500 people having Parkinson’s, the public need to be more aware of the situation and join in the chase for a cure.
One day you or a family member could be affected by Parkinson’s disease. It’s awful for me to witness the condition every week when I go to work even though I do not actually know the sufferers well. In this modern age, with our technical capabilities, if we work together we can cure Parkinson’s disease.
When I become a doctor I hope there will be a cure for Parkinson’s disease, or at least more effective treatments. Either way, when I diagnose those with the condition I hope to support them in the process of their treatment and make sure I offer them all the assistance available to ensure they are able to live their later life to the full.
What can you do today? Get involved, donate and support at: http://www.parkinsons.org.uk/