It’s estimated that up to one million people have Parkinson’s disease in the US, and the number of people diagnosed is expected to double by 2040. Parkinson’s is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and nervous system, leading to many physical and neurological issues.
This condition can abruptly change the lives of those who have it. Often, people with Parkinson’s can benefit from quality memory care to maintain their quality of life.
With the right resources and a care plan set up, those with Parkinson’s can lead a fulfilling life. But what is an autoimmune disease, and what can you do to help? Let’s explore this medical condition and how it can affect someone you love.
What Type of Disease Is Parkinson’s?
Parkinson’s disease is a condition that affects the brain and causes involuntary movements, including shaking, stiffness, and problems with balance and coordination.
The symptoms typically start out mild and become more severe as the disease advances. As it progresses, people may experience difficulty with walking and speaking and other motor and cognitive deficits.
Now, studies have shown that this neurodegenerative disease not only has strong ties with autoimmune diseases but may actually be driven by autoimmune processes.
What this means is that they now believe the immune system of those with Parkinson’s disease attacks once-healthy cells and tissues. Other examples of autoimmune diseases include celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes.
What Triggers Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. The nerve cells in this substantia nigra are responsible for producing dopamine, which acts as a messenger between the brain and the nervous system. That is why issues with motor control throughout the body are some of the major symptoms of this disease.
What occurs is that there are clumps of a damaged protein called alpha-synuclein which begin to build up in the dopamine-producing brain cells. These clumps, termed Lewy bodies, slowly lead to cell death. The loss of nerve cells is slow, and the symptoms of Parkinson’s usually only become evident when 50% of cell activity is lost in the substantia nigra.
What Is the Most Common First Symptom of Parkinson’s Disease?
Symptoms start slowly with this progressive disorder. The first symptom may be a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand, but other symptoms can include:
- Muscle rigidity of the neck, trunk, and limb
- Resting tremors
- Impaired balance
- Slowness of movement
Eventually, you may notice non-motor symptoms which are cognitive, such as mood changes and memory issues, most eventually leading to dementia.
At What Stage Does Dementia Start with Parkinson’s?
Some studies have reported that the average time from the onset of Parkinson’s to the development of dementia is about 10 years. One study determined that about 3 out of 4 people who have lived with Parkinson’s for more than 10 years will develop dementia.
Is Your Immune System Compromised with Parkinson’s?
Parkinson’s disease is now characterized as a multi-system disorder. Key features of this disorder are neuroinflammation and immune dysfunction.
As an example, many people with Parkinson’s demonstrate non-motor problems like stomach and sleep issues. These symptoms present long before the disease’s motor symptoms really sets in. It is believed that Parkinson’s autoimmune dysfunction is what causes these symptoms to arise.
The first direct evidence that autoimmunity could play a role in Parkinson’s disease was found in a 2017 study. It showed that alpha-synuclein attracts certain T cells. T-cells, also known as lymphocytes, are cells in our bodies responsible for fighting germs and preventing disease. These T-cells then begin to mistakenly attack brain cells.
Researchers now believe this contributes to the progression of Parkinson’s and demonstrates the autoimmune nature of the disease.
Who Is More Prone to Getting Parkinson’s Disease?
Some cases of Parkinson’s may be hereditary, however, most cases are more due to age and environmental factors. Genetics may play some role in the development of the disease, but most often, it tends not to be hereditary.
Typically, people over the age of 50 are more likely to develop Parkinson’s.
How Can You Prevent Parkinson’s Disease?
As there is no known primary cause of Parkinson’s, there is no known preventative measure that can be taken to prevent contracting the disease. However, regular exercise, specifically focusing on balance and movements that involve both sides of the body, may help to slow the disease’s progression.
What Can I Do to Help Someone with Parkinson’s?
If you or your loved one has Parkinson’s disease, know that there is a place for everyone at Fox Trail. There are excellent communities like us at Fox Trail Memory Care that specialize in aiding those with Parkinson’s.
Contact our care team today to see how we can positively impact the lives of your loved ones.