or surgery and cannot be cured, early diagnosis can affect an individual’s quality of life. About 60,000 Americans receive the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease every year. Parkinson’s causes brain cells deep in the substantia nigra to die off. This area is where the neurotransmitter dopamine gets manufactured, and without dopamine, motor circuits start malfunctioning. As dopaminemaking cells die, the brain doesn’t receive the necessary messages about how and when to move. About 60-80 percent of the production of dopamine dies off before Parkinson’s symptoms begin. Symptoms include tremors, muscle stiffness, slow movement and trouble with speech, balance and gait. “Something’s coming over me,” O’Neill told her husband when she first began noticing symptoms. Neurologists often prescribe the drug levodopa, or L-dopa and other medications to ramp up dopamine levels and limit the symptoms. Not everyone responds to levodopa in the same way, and not every dose has the same effect. Drug combinations often lose their effectiveness, leading to greater tremors or a condition called
November 15, 2014, come to the Davis Phinney Foundation’s Victory Summit in Greenville. The symposia series focuses on the things people living with Parkinson’s disease can do today to improve the quality of their lives – learning about the latest research and treatment options and participating in demonstrations of yoga, speech therapy, exercise programs and other activities.
dyskinesia, which occurs in about a third of the people who take the levodopa and generally kicks in after a few years of treatment. Most of the uncontrolled movements we associate with Parkinson’s aren’t actually symptoms of the disease; they’re a side-effect of L-dopa. Surgery may be beneficial for severe side effects or to slow rapid degeneration. The most talked about surgical intervention to calm symptoms, deep brain stimulation involves the implantation of electrodes in the brain, targeting motor circuits that are not functioning properly. “But currently neither surgery nor medications can halt the disease,” said neurosurgeon Dr. Jeffrey Kachmann. “New treatments are in trial, including DBS with grafting of a patient’s peripheral nerve tissue into the brain. The goal is that the nerve graft will allow the brain to heal itself. If successful, the procedure could change the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and possibly halt or reverse brain degeneration.” Signing up for clinical trials like that one is one of the most important steps people with Parkinson’s can take. According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, participation in research makes you an agent of change.
KEEP MOVING Because of the large number of retirees in Beaufort County, the local area also has a disproportionately large number of people with Parkinson’s disease. “Yet Beaufort County is underserved in terms of offering key resources such as a movement disorder specialist,” July 2014 45
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