What is Parkinson’s Disease?

With revelations that Robin Williams was battling the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease – something which fellow veteran actor Michael J Fox has been managing for many years – it is timely to ask what exactly Parkinson’s Disease is.

Prevalence of Parkinson’s

Currently in Australia, around 80,000 people live with Parkinson’s disease, representing approximately 1 in every 350 people. Typically the onset of Parkinson’s Disease is after the age of 60, however 1 in 10 people diagnosed will be under the age of 40. There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s Disease.

Symptoms

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative condition of the central nervous system. It causes motor symptoms such as both tremors and rigidity, as well as affects on posture, reaction time and movement.

In addition to the motor symptoms, there is evidence that Parkinson’s Disease also causes sleeping problems, speech and swallowing problems and potentially depression and anxiety).

Causes

Researchers are working on a number of theories as to the causes of Parkinson’s Disease, including the effect of pesticides and toxins and genetic factors. According to Parkinson’s Australia, it is not considered to be genetic though 10% of cases have a familial incidence. The Garvan Institute estimates that a combination of environmental and multiple genetic factors contribute to the disease in the majority of patients.

 

“The movement related symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease result from the progressive degeneration of neurons, or brain cells, in the midbrain. Neurons in the part of the brain that control co-ordinated movement release a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine stimulates motor neurons, those nerve cells that control the muscles. When dopamine production is depleted, the motor system nerves are unable to control movement and coordination. Parkinson’s disease patients have lost 80% of the relevant dopamine-producing cells by the time their symptoms appear.”

The Garvan Institute

Treatment

While there is currently no cure, there are a range of treatments that may reduce the symptoms in patients. It’s important to realize that the progression of the disease will differ between people, so a treatment that is appropriate for one person may not suit another. Treatment can range across multiple combinations of medication, physical and mental therapy and surgery. Specialist medical advice is crucial.

Trauma Insurance coverage

Parkinson’s Disease seems to be a condition that is covered (or not) differently between insurers. Under some basic policies, Parkinson’s Disease is not covered. It is covered under other standard policies as a “nervous system condition” and under some as a “brain condition”. Many trauma policies will cover it under their premium or extended policies. You should always ask the question!

 

Resources

Some useful online resources include:

Better Health Channel

Parkinson’s Australia

Health Direct Australia

 

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