New treatments help in halting progression of Parkinson’s

Due to limited awareness and diagnostic challenges, the actual prevalence may be higher.
Representative Image
Representative Image

Parkinson’s disease, a disorder that affects the central nervous system, can be caused by several factors, including genetic and environmental, but recent advancements have helped in slowing or halting its progression. Dr. (Lt Gen) CS Narayanan, head of neurology, Manipal Hospital, Dwarka, Delhi, tells Kavita Bajeli-Datt that individuals with Parkinson’s can continue working and engaging in regular activities with appropriate support. Edited excerpts:

What is Parkinson’s disease? What are the early signs?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder characterised by the gradual loss of specific brain cells that produce dopamine, a chemical messenger crucial for smooth and coordinated movement. The classic motor symptoms include tremors (often starting in one hand), rigidity or stiffness in muscles, bradykinesia (slowness of movement), and postural instability (balance problems). Non-motor symptoms such as depression, constipation, sleep disturbances, and cognitive changes can also occur. 

 What causes the disease and what are the risk factors?

The causes of Parkinson’s are complex and likely involve a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental triggers. Genetic mutations can increase the risk, but most cases are sporadic. Environmental factors like exposure to pesticides, herbicides, or certain toxins may contribute to it. Advanced age is the primary risk factor, with onset typically occurring after the age of 60. 

How common is Parkinson’s in India?

Estimates suggest a prevalence of around 70-160 per one lakh, but this can vary regionally. Due to limited awareness and diagnostic challenges, the actual prevalence may be higher. 

How can one differentiate between typical ageing symptoms and early signs of Parkinson’s?

While some symptoms like slight tremors or mild slowness can occur with age, symptoms that significantly impact daily functioning, such as tremors at rest, stiffness interfering with movement, or changes in gait and balance, are more indicative of Parkinson’s. 

Are there any specific lifestyle changes that can help manage the symptoms or slow its progression? Can it be cured?

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can complement medical treatment for Parkinson’s. Regular aerobic workout and strength training can improve mobility and overall well-being. A balanced diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids is beneficial. Physical and occupational therapy can help manage symptoms and maintain independence. 

 How effective are current medications in managing Parkinson’s symptoms, and what are their potential side effects?

Medications like levodopa, dopamine agonists, and MAO-B inhibitors are commonly prescribed to manage motor symptoms. Levodopa is highly effective but may cause side effects such as nausea, dyskinesia (involuntary movements), or fluctuations in response over time. Careful medication management by a neurologist is essential to optimise benefits and minimise side effects.

 What are the latest advancements in treating Parkinson’s disease?

Recent advancements in treatment include research into disease-modifying therapies aimed at slowing or halting disease progression. Deep brain stimulation and focused ultrasound are advanced therapies for those with severe symptoms. Stem cell therapy, gene therapy and targeted drug delivery are promising areas of investigation. 

 Is it possible to continue working or maintain regular activities after a Parkinson’s diagnosis?

Many individuals with Parkinson’s can continue working and engaging in regular activities with appropriate support. Flexible work arrangements, ergonomic adaptations, and assistive devices can accommodate changing needs. Multidisciplinary care involving neurologists, physical therapists and social workers can facilitate optimal functioning and quality of life.

Dr. (Lt Gen) CS Narayanan
Dr. (Lt Gen) CS Narayanan

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