Parkinson’s disease is challenging for the patient and their loved ones, but treatments are available to slow down the disease and impact day-to-day life.
Alex Hayes:When you have a new patient who is getting diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, how do you define for them what it is? Kara Wyant, MD:I tell them it’s a slowly progressive neurodegenerative disease, which means that a little part of your brain is slowly dying off. In Parkinson’s disease, that’s the dopamine-producing cell and that’s what’s giving you your symptoms. Alex Hayes:Dr. Nwabuobi, can you just kind of run me through a list of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease? Lynda Nwabuobi, MD:People know a lot about the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. The tremor, the slowness, the shuffling, the masked faces. People may notice balance is affected, smaller handwriting, which we call micrographia, a reduced volume of speech, so the voice becomes lower. The other part of Parkinson’s disease are the non-motor symptoms. Some examples are constipation, anxiety, depression, acting out your dreams, which is called R.E.M. sleep behavior disorder. These are some of the signs that we put together when we see a patient to let us know that this is probably Parkinson’s. Alex Hayes:Once you’ve diagnosed somebody with Parkinson’s, what are the different treatment options? Kara Wyant, MD:Oh, there are many treatment options. So for the motor symptoms, there are dopamine replacement therapies. So, because you’ve lost that dopamine in your brain, we give it back to you. For some of the other non-motor symptoms, we have specific medications that have been approved for those indications in Parkinson’s disease, as well. Alex Hayes:What are off periods of Parkinson’s and how are they treated? Lynda Nwabuobi, MD:The goal is to keep dopamine in the body and the brain at a steady level. But unfortunately, a lot of the medications, the way they work is that you take it and then it goes up and comes back down. And as it comes down, you see them go from moving and talking, to then going back to being slow and low voice. So that’s when you say, “Okay, now they’re going off.” And so the goal is to catch your wearing off period, take a pill so that you don’t completely wear off. Alex Hayes:Outside of medications, are there certain lifestyle changes that somebody could implement that will help ease the symptoms? Kara Wyant, MD:Exercise, exercise, exercise, is the big thing that I preach to all of my patients, because it makes such a big difference. Kara Wyant, MD:So unfortunately at this point, we don’t have any medications that are going to slow the rate of decline or stop the disease progression in Parkinson’s disease. But exercise, when you do it, may have a beneficial effect in doing that. As long as you start exercising and keep it up, you can actually delay the balance problems that come for everybody at some point in Parkinson’s disease. Alex Hayes:How important is it in terms of accepting the treatment or continuing the treatment, is it to have a strong relationship with your neurologist? Lynda Nwabuobi, MD:I think it’s very important to have a good relationship with your neurologist. Having Parkinson’s, it’s not an easy ride. You’re going to need all the support and there’s so many organizations out there and resources out there. The neurologist can be the key to connecting you to many of these resources. Kara Wyant, MD:I would encourage you to get out there, get active, get educated, and then participate in the things that are available for our patients with Parkinson’s disease.