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Five things you should know about Parkinson’s disease

To mark World Parkinson’s Day on April 11, we asked Neurosurgeon Michael Park to share some of his expertise.
University of Minnesota Health Neurosurgeon Michael Park, MD, believes understanding Parkinson’s disease, its symptoms and its potential treatments is important for patients—and the family and friends of those diagnosed with the disease.

Neurosurgeon Michael Park, MD, PhD, has seen the impact Parkinson’s disease can have on a life.

Park believes understanding the disease, its symptoms and its potential treatments is important for patients—and the family and friends of those diagnosed with Parkinson’s. That is why Park, who specializes in an innovative Parkinson’s therapy known as deep brain stimulation, chose to share his expertise with us in honor of World Parkinson’s Day. 

Roughly 60,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and World Parkinson’s Day is an opportunity to increase public awareness of this disease.

Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder characterized by difficulty with movement.
People with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive nervous system disorder, experience symptoms that hamper their movement in many ways. The disorder may start with a barely noticeable tremor, and progress to more significant shaking. Patients often experience stiffness or rigidity in their arms and legs. They may also find it difficult to start moving or walk, a medical condition known as a freezing of gait. Parkinson’s can also affect speech. 

“In addition to their symptoms, Parkinson’s patients are often dealing with side effects from the medication they’re taking,” Park said.

There’s still no known cause of Parkinson’s disease.
Doctors still don’t know for sure what triggers Parkinson’s disease, nor have they been able to cure the disorder, though medication can help manage the symptoms. The disease begins when brain cells controlling movement become damaged or die altogether. When these cells become impaired, it leads to a decrease in dopamine production, which helps transmit signals within the brain. Doctors have found that some people may have a higher genetic risk for developing the disorder.

“What we know now is that there is a disruption in the circuitry that controls our movement,” said Park.

Learn more about our University of Minnesota Health neurology services.

Most affected by the disease will get it later in life, but some will develop Young-Onset Parkinson’s.
Typically symptoms will begin developing in a Parkinson’s patient in his or her late 50s or early 60s, but some people develop it much earlier in life. These patients are diagnosed with Young-Onset Parkinson’s and often have a genetic predisposition to the disease.

The patients will experience the same symptoms as their older counterparts, but the disease has a longer time to progress in younger patients, Park said.

University of Minnesota Health offers advanced treatment for Parkinson’s.
Park’s specializes in deep brain stimulation, a surgical therapy for brain conditions like Parkinson’s that regulates brain activity to treat Parkinson’s symptoms, such as tremors. Park and his team at University of Minnesota Medical Center conduct deep brain stimulation procedures regularly, helping patients to drastically increase their quality of life.”

Learn more about deep brain stimulation.

“It does not cure the disease,” Park said, “but it actually allows the patients to have better control of their tremors and reduce their symptoms.” Patients become less dependent on the medication, which can decrease the number of side effects they experience.

Exercise and physical therapy are critical
Regular visits with your physician and medications both help patients manage Parkinson’s, but exercise and physical therapy can also be greatly beneficial to Parkinson’s patients.

“We believe exercise and physical therapy can help slow the disease’s progression and reduce Parkinson’s symptoms,” Park said. The National Parkinson’s Foundation notes that exercise for people with Parkinson’s is not only healthy, but vital for maintaining balance, mobility and daily living activities.