Currently, one million people in the United States alone have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD), which makes it one of the most prevalent neurological disorders on the planet right now. And yet, there is still so much misunderstanding surrounding the illness, and many people have inaccurate perceptions of what exactly PD is. These misconceptions can be dangerous; without the correct information and awareness out there, those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease will not only feel separated from society, but other individuals may ignore symptoms and alarm bells and end up misdiagnosed too.
To further understand PD, it’s always a good idea to start dispelling the myths behind the sickness first, by challenging the way people think about those living with this disorder. Here are 10 of the most common misconceptions:
1. It’s Only Physical
Whilst the most obvious warning signs and manifestations of Parkinson’s are motor-related (tremors, mobility loss, trouble with balance, etc), there are various other non-motor concerns involved too, including personality changes, depression, sleepiness, focusing difficulties, and even hallucinations.
2. It’s All about the Tremors
When people imagine Parkinson’s disease, they usually visualize the tremors first and foremost. Granted, it is the most common characteristic, but reportedly up to 20% of patients do not suffer from this specific symptom. Furthermore, tremors themselves can be a result of a myriad of other health troubles, such as multiple sclerosis, strokes, and brain injuries.
3. It’s an Elderly Disorder
The fact that Parkinson’s disease is more likely to affect people aged 60 and over has kept this myth alive, but it is not entirely accurate. Truthfully, up to 5% of diagnosed patients are younger than 40 years old, and even if their loss of balance tends to be less severe, their involuntary movements and thought impairments are just as notable.
4. It’s Genetic
Unfortunately, the cause of Parkinson’s disease is still unknown at this time. Researchers are relatively certain that genetics play some role (as occasional hereditary patterns have been documented from time to time), but roughly 90% of cases have no family history of the illness whatsoever. Rather, it has been suggested that both genetics and environmental factors are involved, but a definitive answer is yet to be agreed upon.
5. It’s Preventable
As stated above, researchers are yet to fully understand how the disorder develops in the first place, and without that knowledge, it is extremely difficult to determine any reasonable way to prevent the problem.
6. It’s Predictable
Besides Parkinson’s unknown causes, the symptoms are so varied from person to person that even once diagnosed, medical professionals have no real way of calculating where it will go. As a result, there no certain method in predicting all that much information about each case of PD, including how fast it may progress, or even how the disease will manifest itself.
7. It’s Curable
With the correct medication or even deep-brain stimulation, the individual symptoms of each patient can be treated to a certain degree, helping to improve the overall quality of their life. However, the progression of Parkinson’s disease is currently incurable.
8. Once Diagnosed, There Is Nothing You Can Do
Perhaps the disease itself is incurable, but there are plenty of approaches which have assisted individuals in leading happy and fulfilling lives—and it’s not always medication based. Healthy eating is a must, and regular exercise will keep the muscles strong and flexible whilst encouraging independence. Not to mention that there are many Parkinson’s disease-related products out there, such as stabilizing spoons, keypads instead of locks, voice activated devices, and velcro clothing.
9. There Is No Hope for the Future of PD
When considering that the causes of Parkinson’s disease are unknown, that it is incurable, and that it is a progressive disorder, it’s easy to lose any optimism towards the future. However, researchers continue to work tirelessly at finding some answers, and did even hit a breakthrough in 1997, when the FDA approved the use of a deep brain stimulation implant for PD patients. This little medical device was found to significantly help those with severe tremors and rigidity, providing relief in their day to day activities.
10. It’s Fatal
Parkinson’s disease has never directly killed anyone. However, with all the health concerns which surround the disorder, it can often lead to more critical problems. Some of the most common of these are respiratory system issues which turn into pneumonia, difficulty swallowing, and infections due to lack of any movement. That said, with the proper care, patients have been known to live with the disease for up to 30 years. And if modern medicine has taught us anything, it’s that these numbers will only continue to get better.