Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder of the central nervous system. It is a progressive disorder that affects muscle control and movement. It occurs as a result of insufficient levels of the chemical Dopamine produced from the substantia nigra, located in the midbrain portion of the brain. This occurs due to the death of dopamine generating cells.
The cause of this cell death is unknown. Parkinson’s disease is often referred to as idiopathic, meaning it has no known cause. The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are varied. The key motor symptoms consist of four motor presentations, specifically: tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia (slowness of movement) and postural instability (Poewe, 2009).
Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
- Tremor is the most common symptom, usually observed when a person is at rest. It involves oscillations or twitching of one or more body parts (i.e. arm, hand or leg). It becomes more apparent as the disease progresses (Xia & Mao, 2012).
- Rigidity is tautness and inflexible resistance to upper and lower limb movement caused by increased muscle tone. One of the initial signs of Parkinson’s disease is joint pain associated with stiffness of the muscles (Xia & Mao, 2012).
- Bradykinesia, or slowness of movement, is associated with difficulties planning, initiating and executing muscle movement. Bradykinesia can directly affect participation in everyday tasks involving fine motor control (i.e. dialling a phone number, getting dressed and writing) (Xia & Mao, 2012).
- Postural instability tends to occur in the later stages of disease progression. This can lead to impaired balance and falls. Parkinson’s disease is also characterised by other motor symptoms, including festination (rapid shuffling steps) and changes to gait (Poewe, 2009).
In addition to the motor changes involved with Parkinson’s disease, this condition can affect neuropsychiatric functions. This includes disorders of speech, behaviour, mood, thought and cognition (William-Gray, Foltynie, Lewis & Barker, 2006). Cognitive deficits usually manifest as difficulties with executive function such as, planning activities, memory, abstract thinking, flexibility of thought and self regulation (William-Gray et al., 2006).
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