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Frequently Asked Questions

What causes Parkinson’s?

Although the cause of Parkinson’s is currently not known, the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear when there is not enough dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical that allows nerve cells to transmit messages between each other and then to muscles to facilitate normal movement. For people with Parkinson’s, many of these cells, contained in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra, have died — and the remaining cells cannot produce enough dopamine. What causes the cells to die remains a mystery.

How is Parkinson’s treated?

Using a multidisciplinary approach to treat Parkinson’s is the key to success. Although maintaining good mobility and symptom control depend largely on medication, an effective treatment program can include services offered by a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, movement disorders specialist or neurologist, clinical nurse specialist, family doctor, speech-language pathologist, psychologist or psychiatrist, registered dietitian, pharmacist, social worker and/or Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario.

Is Parkinson’s contagious?

Parkinson’s is not contagious: it cannot be passed from one person to another.

Is Parkinson’s life-threatening?

Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder that is ‘life-altering’, not ‘life-threatening’. Although people do not usually die of Parkinson’s, they may be at an increased risk for developing life-threatening complications, like pneumonia or severe swallowing difficulties, once they have progressed to a highly advanced stage.

Is Parkinson’s hereditary?

Parkinson’s is not a genetically inherited disease, although both genetic and environmental contributions are under heavy investigation by researchers.

What support services are available for people with Parkinson’s?

Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario offers support services to people with Parkinson’s as well as to their families and healthcare professionals. To find out what services are available in your area, call 1-888-851-7376 or email info@psso.ca.

What is the average age of diagnosis?

Parkinson’s usually begins between the ages of fifty and sixty-five with an average age of onset of sixty years. Once thought to be a disease exclusive to the elderly, a growing number of people are now being diagnosed at a younger age. In fact, 5 to 10 percent of people with Parkinson’s develop symptoms before the age of forty; this is called Young Onset Parkinson’s.

How many Canadians have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s?

According to statistics, there are nearly 100,000 people living with Parkinson’s in Canada.

How is Parkinson’s diagnosed?

A diagnosis of Parkinson’s can take time. There is no single test, such as a blood test, to determine whether a person has the disease. The family doctor should make a referral to a neurologist, preferably one who specializes in movement disorders. The person will undergo a careful physical examination and other clinical assessments, including medical history.

Is Parkinson’s more common in men or women?

Parkinson’s is slightly more common in men, with a male-to-female ratio of 3:2, but the importance of this difference is unknown.

Is Parkinson’s more common in certain ethnic groups?

Parkinson’s is found all over the world. It shows no social, ethnic, economic or geographic boundaries.

Is Restless Leg Syndrome associated with Parkinson’s?

Restless Leg Syndrome is when a person experiences uncomfortable sensations in his or her legs that can only be relieved by movement. Although this condition is commonly seen in people with Parkinson’s, it is also seen in 10 percent of the general population.

Do drugs stop the progression of Parkinson’s?

Drugs can lessen the symptoms of Parkinson’s, but do not stop the progression. While medication can help the person’s ability to function, there are often side effects that need to be managed. Research is focused on finding more effective drug treatments.

Can Parkinson’s affect a person’s mental status?

Although it is common for people with Parkinson’s to experience a mild form of cognitive impairment during the course of their illness, only an estimated forty percent of those with Parkinson’s will develop dementia (irreversible decline in two or more areas of mental functioning that is severe enough to interfere with activities of daily living).

Should a person with Parkinson’s exercise on a regular basis?

Yes, if possible. Because Parkinson’s affects the quality of movement, exercise becomes an important and essential part of the treatment plan. Exercise can help reduce stiffness and prevent the loss of range of motion that is associated with rigidity. Over time it may indirectly delay physical disability. Exercise also increases self-confidence, produces a feeling of general well-being and allows one to have some control over how one feels on a daily basis. Exercise has a direct impact on overall quality of life.

Have any famous people been diagnosed with Parkinson’s?

Yes; Parkinson’s has no boundaries and can affect anyone. For example, those that have or had Parkinson’s include Michael J. Fox (actor), Pope John Paul II, Muhammad Ali (boxer), Salvador Dali (artist), Ozzy Osbourne (musician), Robin Williams (actor), Alan Alda (actor) and Pierre Elliot Trudeau (former Prime Minister).

What does the term ‘Parkinsonism’ mean?

‘Parkinsonism’ is a term given to a group of disorders characterized by tremor, slow movement, muscle stiffness and difficulty walking. Parkinson’s disease is the most common form of Parkinsonism. Other disorders that fit under this category include: Essential Tremor, Drug-Induced Parkinsonism and Parkinson-Plus Syndromes (i.e., Multiple System Atrophy – MSA, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy – PSP and Corticobasal Degeneration – CBD)

Can brain surgery cure Parkinson’s?

Unfortunately, there is no cure available for people with Parkinson’s. Surgery (known as Deep Brain Stimulation or DBS) can ease some of the symptoms associated with the disorder, but it cannot stop its progression. Furthermore, there are risks associated with brain surgery and only certain people with Parkinson’s are considered eligible candidates.

Where can I get handouts that have been designed for people living with Parkinson’s and for their families?

Free educational material is available by clicking here or by calling Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario at 1-888-851-7376.

What is the mandate of Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario?

Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario enhances the quality of life and care for people living with Parkinson’s in Southwestern Ontario. Our purpose is to ease the burden and find a cure through support services, education, advocacy and research. We are a not-for-profit, volunteer-based charity dedicated to enhancing the lives of those with Parkinson’s, their families, friends and care partners.

Resources

Johns Hopkins Medicine.  https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/how-parkinson-disease-is-diagnosed 

Jog, M.S., with Sheikh, H.I. & Singarayer, R. (2000). Parkinson’s Disease: Patient Portfolio. London: Movement Disorders Clinic.

Mayo Clinic – Dec. 08, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20376055  

Grimes, D.A. (2004). Parkinson’s: Stepping Forward. Toronto: Key Porter Books Limited, 49.