Exercising from an early age can help prevent Parkinson's disease
A degenerative disorder of the central nervous systems, Parkinson’s disease is often associated with tremors in the limbs but for the sufferer, the symptoms can be far more devastating.
People with Parkinson’s disease experience a range of symptoms, including shaking, rigidity, finger twisting or tapping, slowness of movement and problems with balance and coordination.
“The most common symptom and the one that is found in every patient is not shaking but slowness of movement. Some patients don’t have any tremors,” says neurologist Assoc Prof Dr Roongroj Bhidayasiri, the director of Chulalongkorn University Hospital’s Parkinson's Disease and Related Disorders Centre.
It’s a disease that may go undetected too, as it is more common in those aged 60 and above so the slowness of movement and other symptoms may simply be put down to ageing.
“Families need to observe their elderly members. The slowness doesn’t necessarily come with age and in people with PD, it will gradually increase, adds Dr Roongroj, who is also the president of Thai Parkinson's Disease Society.
A “Night-PD” study of 300 PD patients over a six-month period was recently conducted by Dr Suwanna Setthawatcharavanich, a neurologist at Prince of Songkhla University and Dr Phawut Mekwichai of Nakhon Ratchasima Hospital in collaboration with Chulalongkorn Hospital. It found that 74.3 per cent of PD patients suffered such symptoms at night as frequent urination, insomnia, stiffness, sleepwalking and moving their hands or legs to the point that they hurt the person sleeping beside them.
“What happen doesn’t only affect the patients themselves but also the people who take care of them at night,” says Dr Phawut.
One patient’s wife decided to take a video of her husband during the night. She took the tape along to their next consultation with the doctor, who was able to make a diagnosis and adjust his medications accordingly.
“I didn’t know how to explain what was happening, so I taped it,” says the woman, adding that she would wake up to find her husband with a stiff body and twisted and tapping fingers.
Dr Roongroj wishes more people would take a similar initiative.
“Generally doctor has just 5 to 10 minutes to diagnose the patients. Watching a video is extremely helpful,” he says. Research indicates that around 18 per cent of Thai PD patients as a result of a genetic disorder.
It’s the result of the gradual loss of neurons that release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates dopamine receptors.
In Thailand, says Dr Roongroj, it is more prevalent in areas where organochlorine insecticides are widely used for rice cultivation. Certain medications, among them cinnarizine, flunarizine, metoclopramide and haloperidol, often prescribed for dizziness, nausea and psychological treatment provoke similar symptoms. While PD is generally a disease of the elderly, it can occur in young people too. Here the symptom that brings them to consult a doctor is a frozen shoulder, the result of muscle spasm.
“The stiff shoulder will come and go in a young patient for around two years. And the symptoms are usually overlooked, as they will tend to consult an orthopaedist. They don’t think about PD,” says Dr Roongroj.
A PET scan can used to check the levels of dopamine in the brain, but this is costly. In most of the cases, the neurologist will make the diagnosis by examining the patient and checking their movement.
Stem cell treatment is not an option, Dr Roongrote says, as the problem is in the brain area. However, drugs are available to treat the symptoms and can dramatically improve quality of life for Parkinson's patients.
Studies have also found that exercising from the age of 35 can help prevent Parkinson’s disease.
“This tells us that we can train our brain to prevent brain diseases and that keeping on moving more is vital. It’s the same with Alzheimer’s; you must keep your brain working. And the most important protection is to do it constantly,” he says.
Don’t be alone
Learn about and join the Thailand’s Parkinson’s Community by visiting www.ParkinsonThailand.com/ or call the centre at (02) 252 1301.