Life Science & Technology

Parkinson’s disease is incurable, but we can reduce its progression

When my grandfather was diagnosed with this disorder of the nervous system, our whole family had to learn how to help.

In the house, there were only me and my grandfather. My grandmother was out to buy lunch and I was dozing off by the sunlight through the window while watching TV.  Suddenly, my grandfather started to laugh and talk outloud. I asked him who he was speaking to. “Your uncle just came here.” I looked around, but there was nobody in our house except the two of us.

  My 74-year-old grandfather has lived with Parkinson’s disorder for two years. Parkinson’s disease is a prograssive nervous system disorder when the cells that produce dopamine die. The dopamine usually send signals from the substantia nigra in the brain to the body through the nerves to control movement. However, if the dopamine are gradually destroyed, the signals cannot be sent properly, which causes Parkinson’s disease. 

 “Before I was diagnosed, I felt I didn’t walk well, and I often tripped on the road even though it was smooth and flat,” my grandfather said when I asked about some noticeable symptoms. 

Parkinson Canada describes some common symptoms: tremor; slowness and stiffness; impaired balance; rigidity of the muscle; soft speech; sleep disturbances. Some of these symptoms can make the person have difficulty in moving. There are no x- rays or tests to confirm Parkinson’s, and you may not notice it by yourself.

“He has hallucinations. He thought that there was a dog in our house, but we don’t have one,” said my 48-year-old mother. “Also, he sometimes gets mad about something suddenly without any reasons. I think it may be one of the conditions of this disease.”

Nearly 70% of patients with Parkinson’s disease may experience dementia as well.  Researchers are still figuring out how the brain becomes damaged, and they have found that there is a significant cause called alpha-synuclein. The alpha-synuclein is a protein that restricts the regulation of the amount of dopamines which also sends a signal to the brain for motivation and memory. Moreover, this protein forms large clumps called Lewy bodies in nerve cells, which can lead to the brain cell’s death. Some researchers are now focusing on this protein due in their search for cures and therapies.

Sometimes, the dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease is misunderstood as Alzheimer’s, but their symptoms are slightly different. Alzheimer’s affects language and memory, while Parkinson’s affects problem solving, speed of thinking, memory and other cognitive functions, as well as mood. Moreover, the dementia creates huge impact on social and occupational functioning with Parkinson’s disease more than Alzheimer’s. 

“We are trying to have an optimistic view about his disease because we all know that we can’t stop anything, except reducing its progression,” said my 68 year-old grandmother, his wife of 48 years. “I am very grateful that my children and grandchildren always help me to take care of him, such as changing diapers, caring for meals, caring for bathing, and so on.” 

Family Caregiver Alliance has suggested that caregivers get prepared, taking care of themselves, asking for help from the others, working to maintain good relationships with the family member who has this disease and encouraging everyone to stay active. 

I still remember when my grandfather taught me how to write words, how to behave at the dinner table, and how to solve math problems. Now, it’s my turn to teach him how to go to the washroom, how to use the fork and knife, and remind him where he is.

Image Credit : melanie.louette

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