About a million people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) most of whom are men over the age of 60. PD is a neurodegenerative disorder. Also referred to as a movement disorder it happens when nerve cells in the brain don’t produce enough of a brain chemical called dopamine.
Early symptoms can include a tremor in your finger, thumb, hand or chin, your handwriting becoming smaller, loss of sense of smell, trouble sleeping, trouble moving or stiffness when walking, constipation, soft or low voice, a serious or angry look on your face, dizziness or fainting, not standing up straight or slouching and trouble with balance.
The Parkinson’s Foundation says that there is “no ‘one way’ to diagnose Parkinson’s disease”. However there are various symptoms and diagnostic tests used in combination. Making an accurate diagnosis of Parkinson’s – particularly in its early stages – is difficult, but a skilled practitioner can come to a reasoned conclusion that it is PD.
The cause remains largely unknown. Although there is no cure, treatment options vary and include medications and surgery. While Parkinson’s itself is not fatal, disease complications can be serious,” PF tells us.
Living with PD can be as simple as taking medications and as complicated as surgery. Learning how to alleviate symptoms while maintaining quality of life is crucial because it’s not uncommon for a person with PD to suffer depression.
Parkinson’s has a history that goes back to ancient times. In 175 AD a physician named Galen described it as “shaking palsy.” But it wasn’t until 1817 that James Parkinson wrote a detailed description in “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy” which recognized PD as a medical condition and in which he encouraged others to study the disease.
Sixty years later, a French neurologist, Jean Martin Charcot, did just that. He recognized the importance of Parkinson’s research and named the disease after him.
“It was in the 1960s that the chemical differences in the brains of Parkinson’s patients were identified. The low levels of dopamine cause the degeneration of nerve cells in part of the brain called the substantia nigra. It was this discovery that lead to the first effective medicinal treatment of the disease,” Parkinson’s Foundation explains.
Wikipedia tells us that in 1983, Dr. Lorraine Ramig (assistant professor on tenure track in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Science at the University of Colorado-Boulder) was beginning Parkinson’s disease research when approached by a colleague Dr. Wilbur Gould. Gould wanted Ramig to help with the treatment of his friend, Mrs. Lee Silverman who had PD. From this work, the LSVT (Lee Silverman Voice Therapy) LOUD program was born.
“LSVT LOUD is an effective speech treatment for individuals with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions … Published research data support improvements in vocal loudness, intonation and voice quality for individuals with PD who received LSVT LOUD with improvements maintained up to two years after treatment. Recent research studies have also documented the effectiveness of this therapy in improving the common problems of disordered articulation, diminished facial expression and impaired swallowing.”
With the success of LOUD, utilizing the same principles LSVT BIG was born. “Specifically, training increased amplitude of limb and body movement in people with PD has documented improvements in amplitude (trunk rotation/gait) that generalized to improved speed, balance and quality of life,” LSVT Global says.
Both LSVT LOUD and LSVT BIG are administered by certified clinicians who have undergone training and certification. Locally we have three therapists, Elizabeth Neuder, Shelly Ackerman and Cadie Archer at Performance Therapy Services certified in the LSVT program. You can call 208-265-3325 for more information.
Thanks to celebrities like Michael J. Fox, Mohammed Ali and Linda Ronstadt to name three, Parkinson’s awareness has increased and with it better funding for more research.
In a paper recently published in Neurology a study found that “people with Parkinson’s had significantly lower levels of caffeine in their blood than people who did not have PD and consumed the same amount of caffeine. This may indicate how people process caffeine and in combination with other factors, could help identify Parkinson’s earlier,” Michael J. Fox Foundation reports.
Is the next step a cure? Stay tuned.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.