“You have Parkinson’s” a friend of mine heard when she went to a Neurologist to find out why her hand would not stop shaking. She now had an explanation for the shaking hand that she could not stop no matter how hard she tried. “I have the same disease as actor Michael J. Fox and boxer Muhammad Ali,” she reported. “It is time to understand more about Parkinson’s disease? How did I get this disease? What can I do to get rid of it? “ She was full of questions.

Parkinson’s disease affects the brain. It affects certain nerve cells called neurons and gradually breaks them down so they don’t work. When these neurons are healthy they produce a chemical messenger substance called dopamine. Dopamine is necessary for normal brain activity. When dopamine levels decrease, it causes abnormal brain activity. This abnormal brain activity produces the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Why certain people get the disease and others do not is a big mystery. Scientists say there are several factors that could play a role. One factor could be your genes, but research is quick to point out a genetic link is rare. The genetic link becomes a factor if you have immediate family members who have Parkinson’s disease. Another risk factor to consider is exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors such as pesticides, insecticides and more but again, research in inconclusive as to which environmental factor might be the trigger. Researchers continue to look for what triggers the neurons to decline in order to find a cure.

Parkinson’s disease signs and symptoms vary from person to person. Early signs can be slight enough to go unnoticed for years. Early warning signs can be the loss of the sense of smell or your handwriting becomes shaky. As the disease progresses, typically the physical symptoms start on one side of the body. There could be tremors or shaking often in the hand or fingers. The tremor continues even when your hand is resting. Rigidity in the leg muscles can create a difference in your ability to walk. Your steps may become shorter and you may have more difficult picking up your feet. Parkinson’s disease can change the way you speak, affect your posture and disrupt your ability to do personal care. Most people with Parkinson’s continue to lead effective lives. It is only when it becomes acutely pronounced that it can become debilitating

Since Parkinson’s disease affects the brain it could also affect thinking, sleep, swallowing and more. Depression could be a big challenge. It is important you have a support group and talk to your doctor about how you are feeling and be proactive about your symptoms. Retirement Communities such as Sierra View Homes are good places to find support groups.

As of now there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease but there are things you can do to help yourself. One way to enhance daily quality of life and even build impressive power, strength, and flexibility is to train like a boxer. Rock Steady is a popular boxing class just for people with Parkinson’s disease. The training exercises are geared to the symptoms that are often present. Training for boxing has shown to give Parkinson’s sufferers ability to have quality of life. Swimming or water aerobics is also a great exercise to keep fighting against Parkinson’s symptoms. The sweeping movements help with strength and balance. Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy to plan an exercise program. It is important that people with Parkinson’s disease keep exercising and moving to maintain strength, balance and control. It is not only a benefit in reduced symptoms but exercise also helps stave off depression.

There have been good results with deep brain stimulation where a probe is placed in the brain and is connected to a generator implanted in the chest. The probe sends electrical pulses to the brain and reduces Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Some people have great results in symptom reduction.

Medications for Parkinson’s disease have improved over the past decade. Carbidopa-levodopa is the most effective mediation according to Mayo Clinic research. As with all medications there are risks and side effects. It is important to work closely with your doctor to find the right medicine and dosage that gives you the best outcome.

Researchers all over the world are working on finding a cure. Some are looking for what causes a person to get Parkinson’s disease; some are looking at specific proteins in the brain that could be the trigger of neuron depletion.; another research program is looking at a specific artery in the brain that may hold the answers. Maybe we will see a cure soon.

In the meantime, if you have heard the words “you have Parkinson’s disease”, take heart. Work with your doctor to have the best course of action to maintain the highest quality of life, don’t stop moving and find a support group to have a community that understands what you are experiencing. There are many people who are on the same road and supporting each other gives encouragement to be the best you can be.