Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that develops when cells in a mid-brain structure called the substantia nigra die, causing a decline in overall levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. It is not yet known why some people develop Parkinson’s, although roughly 15 per cent of people with the disease have a close relative who also has (or had) Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s disease usually emerges after the age of 60. Early symptoms include muscle tremors that make fine motor activities, such as handwriting, very difficult. As the disease progresses over time, people develop an array of motor symptoms, including rigidity of the muscles, slow speech and movement, and very poor balance. Along with physical disabilities, many also develop cognitive and neuropsychiatric problems.

Of the estimated 120,000 Canadians living with Parkinson’s disease, the Parkinson Society Maritime Region calculates that about 8,400 reside in the Maritimes. The Parkinson Society of Canada estimates that, for every person with Parkinson’s disease, at least five others are directly affected.

Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, current therapies are quite effective in managing symptoms and delaying the progression of disease and onset of disability. Researchers around the world are investigating the biology of the disease and developing new approaches to therapy. In Canada, the Parkinson’s Society raises awareness of the disease, as well as funds for research and support programs for families coping with the disease.