10+ Facts About Parkinson’s Disease

Plus common misconceptions about what it’s like

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There are many misconceptions about Parkinson’s disease, which has led to widespread misunderstanding about what the disease really is and the effects it has on someone who is living with it.

Many people believe that having Parkinson’s means you would look sick, but that’s not always the case. Living with Parkinson’s disease looks slightly different for everyone. The condition can cause symptoms like tremors or balance issues and mental health struggles such as depression. Learn more about the facts and myths about this disease.

parkinson's disease tremor

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Parkinson’s Disease Statistics

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that affects roughly 1 million Americans. Neurodegenerative diseases lead to the progressive decline of the structure and function of the central and peripheral nervous systems, which deliver messages to and from the brain to the rest of the body.

The disease is typically found in older adults, and the average age of onset is 60 years old. However, it can occur in younger adults between 30 and 40 years old.

Men are more likely to develop Parkinson's disease. Hispanic and Caucasian ethnicities are the most affected, and the prevalence of the disease is highest in developed countries.

Recap

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that leads to the progressive decline of the central and peripheral nervous systems. Men are more likely to be affected by the condition.

10 Facts About Parkinson’s Disease

Here are some facts about Parkinson's disease that many people may not know.

1. Parkinson’s Disease Is Incurable

Although the disease is treatable, there is no cure. Current therapies can slow the progression of Parkinson's so that people with this condition can maintain a good quality of life.

2. Having Parkinson’s Is Not a Death Sentence 

Parkinson’s disease is not fatal, and your life expectancy depends highly on the type of Parkinson's you have. If the type of disease isn't causing issues with brain function, you can potentially live as long as people without the disease.

However, if someone has an atypical case of the condition that occurs at the same time as other conditions such as dementia, this can negatively affect their life expectancy.

3. The Disease Is Unique in Every Person

Although people with Parkinson’s disease share certain common symptoms such as tremors, loss of balance, and uncontrollable movements, not everyone will experience the disease the same way in terms of symptoms and disease severity.

4. Non-Motor Symptoms Can Be More Detrimental

Parkinson’s disease can cause many symptoms that have nothing to do with motor function. Some non-motor symptoms that can greatly affect a person’s quality of life if they have Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Dementia
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Drooling or excessive production of saliva
  • Loss of control over the bladder
  • Looking mad, sad, or disinterested all the time (facial masking)

5. There Are Some Subtle Early Warning Signs

Along with the early motor symptoms such as tremors and stiffness, other early warning signs of the disease can include the loss of smell and a soft voice. Small handwriting is also a telltale sign that someone may have Parkinson’s, especially if over time it continues to get smaller and more crowded.

6. Exercising Can Help Manage the Disease

Exercise has been shown to help manage Parkinson's disease. The effect that exercise has on the release and production of certain brain chemicals is what helps drive the benefits in slowing the progression of the disease.

7. Parkinson’s Can Increase the Risk of Depression

Depression is the most commonly reported mental health issue in people with Parkinson’s disease, with roughly 40-50% of people with Parkinson’s developing the mental disorder.

8. Not Everyone With Parkinson’s Experiences Tremors 

Roughly 30% of people diagnosed with the disease will not experience any tremors. However, the disease in people who do not experience tremors may progress faster.

Parkinson's Disease Doctor Discussion Guide

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Man

9. Parkinson’s Disease Has Many Stages

There are five stages of Parkinson’s disease:

  • Stage 1: At this stage, you will have only mild symptoms and can go about your day-to-day life relatively easily.
  • Stage 2: Symptoms such as tremors and stiffness begin to worsen and affect both sides of the body. You may develop poor posture or have trouble walking.
  • Stage 3: In this stage, your movement will begin to slow down and you lose balance. Symptoms can hinder your ability to perform daily tasks such as getting dressed or cooking.
  • Stage 4: Symptoms are severe and cause significant issues with day-to-day living. At this point, you are unable to live alone because you cannot complete daily tasks on your own.
  • Stage 5: Walking or standing could be impossible at this point. Typically, people at this stage are confined to a wheelchair or bed and require a nurse to take care of them at home.

10. Parkinson’s Is Affected by Dopamine

Parkinson’s disease is strongly associated with the loss of certain nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain often referred to as the “feel good” hormone. When this chemical becomes depleted, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease develop.

Recap

Living with Parkinson’s disease is much more than dealing with tremors and the occasional loss of balance. However, Parkinson’s is not a death sentence, and managing the disease and symptoms can be done with the right medical approach.

Realities of Living With Parkinson’s 

Parkinson’s disease is unpredictable, so it can be difficult to make any plans—big or small—without worrying you have to cancel at the last minute. Living with the painful symptoms, both physical and mental, can be draining.

Daily tasks may require a lot of energy for someone with Parkinson's disease to complete or are taken away altogether. For example, a person without a chronic disease can drive to the grocery store, come home and do laundry, cook dinner for their family, and still have time to relax at the end of the day. However, a person with Parkinson's will have to put much more effort and time into each task and may not be able to drive at all.

As the disease progresses to its later stages, many people are forced to give up their independence and autonomy when it comes to taking care of themselves. This makes coping with a diagnosis and the disease incredibly difficult.

However, with the right treatments, you can slow disease progression and remain independent for as long as possible.

Recap

A person with Parkinson’s may have to work for every movement, every chore, and every aspect of their day-to-day life. However, you can work with your medical team to develop a treatment plan that can help you remain independent for as long as possible.

3 Myths and Misconceptions

The myths and misconceptions surrounding Parkinson’s disease include:

1. Parkinson’s Patients Cannot Care for Themselves

While it’s true that people in the later stages of the disease may require full or partial assistance when it comes to taking care of themselves, many with Parkinson’s can live full lives with the right treatments.

2. Medications for the Disease Are Toxic

There are several medications available for Parkinson’s disease, but the most commonly used is Sinemet (levodopa). It is designed to restore levels of dopamine in the brain. The medication works well, but a myth that it was toxic began circulating and is still somehow commonly accepted. The truth is as long as the medicine is being used properly and the dose is where it should be, it is completely safe and can benefit people with Parkinson's disease.

3. Parkinson’s Disease Flares Up and Then Goes Away

Unlike other diseases that can flare up and go away sporadically, Parkinson’s is not like that. Symptoms may be worse or better throughout the day, but the disease itself is always progressing, albeit slowly.

Recap

The myths that surround Parkinson’s disease can be dangerous for people trying to understand a diagnosis. Knowing the difference between the facts and myths can help educate others on what it’s like to live and cope with Parkinson’s disease.

Summary

There are many things people without Parkinson's or those who have just received a diagnosis don't know about the disease, but learning the distinction between the myths and facts can help cope with a new diagnosis. Speaking to your doctor about any concerns you have for yourself or your loved one can also help clear up any confusion you have about the disease.

A Word From Verywell 

Because of modern-day medicine and other forms of treatment, a person with Parkinson's disease can manage it effectively and many times expect to live out a normal and long life. If you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and are having a difficult time coping with the news, it’s important that you seek out support groups and follow research advancements in the area.

If you love someone with Parkinson’s disease, becoming an advocate or volunteering with a Parkinson’s organization can be beneficial to spreading awareness and helping others understand the disease better.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is Parkinson's fatal?

    Parkinson’s disease is not fatal. It can severely impact a person’s quality of life, but with the right treatment and management, many people with the disease can live full and happy lives.

  • When is Parkinson's diagnosed?

    The average age of diagnosis is roughly 60 years old, but people in their 30s and 40s can also be diagnosed with the disease. Typically, a person with the early signs will have to undergo certain tests to determine whether their symptoms are being caused by Parkinson’s disease.

  • How common is Parkinson's?

    Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in the world. Roughly 0.5-1% of people aged 65-69 and 1-3% of people aged 80 and older have the disease. Research suggests those numbers are expected to grow by 30% as the population continues to age in the next decade.

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