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Parkinson’s Disease, A Plain English Guide

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Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is an incurable, progressive, and complex whole-body experience. The disease is a progressive death of neurons (brain cells) which create the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine controls movement, and when it is not present, a person cannot control movement.  Difficulty walking and hands that shake are common signs of Parkinson’s disease.

Typical patients, with onset of the disease in their 60’s, live for 15 to 25 years with it.  Additionally, 50-80% of Parkinson’s patients develop dementia. Patients eventually require complete care.

Treatment: the $100,000 option

The motor control losses of Parkinson’s disease can be eased for many years with careful medication management. Some people qualify for a type of brain surgery and electrode implantation, called Deep Brain Stimulation, which costs around $100,000.

Who gets Parkinson’s

Men are slightly more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than women, with environmental and genetic factors causing the disease.  People are often diagnosed in their 60’s.  In fact, 1 out of 100 people 60+ years has Parkinson’s disease.  More and more people are being diagnosed in their 30’s and 40’s. Michael J. Fox was diagnosed at age 30.  Around 1 million people in the US and 14-15,000 in Nebraska have been diagnosed.

The common experience with Parkinson’s

The list of body parts effected by Parkinson’s disease is such a long list, it sounds like the catalog of possible side-effects given on a prescription drug advertisement.  Since this disease effects the production of the neurotransmitter which controls movement, all the muscles in the body are effected and effects worsen over the course of the disease. People with Parkinson’s typically experience these physical problems:

  • Slow movement and uncontrolled fast movement
  • Stiffness
  • Reduced coordination/balance (walking is difficult) and eventual loss of mobility
  • Loss of facial expression, facial mobility
  • Loss of eye and eyelid movement
  • Trouble swallowing and eating
  • Problems with speech
  • Digestive issues, all phases
  • Variation in blood pressure, lightheadedness, blackouts

Parkinson’s effects cognition, too.

  • Memory loss/dementia
  • Reduced impulse control (in extreme cases, some people become compulsive gamblers)
  • Loss of emotional control
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping (fragmented, extreme and vivid dreams, sleep apnea)
  • Loss of sense of smell

If you have additional questions about living with Parkinson’s disease, please call me, 402-261-5158.


Dr. John Bertoni, Dr. Danish Bhatti, Dr. Diego Torres-Russotto of the UNMC Comprehensive Multidisciplinary Parkinson’s Disease Clinic, Omaha, NE

Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s

Journal of Neuro-Epidemiology, 2010

Parkinson’s Disease Foundation

American Parkinson’s Disease Association

US Census

DHHS of Nebraska

Lee Nyberg, a partner at Home Care Assistance of Nebraska, focuses on education on aging issues, co-leads a Parkinson’s support group, and is a Legislative Advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association.