What is Parkinson's
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, degenerative neurological condition that affects a person’s control of their body movements. In Australia, it affects 80,000 people with 32 people being diagnosed every day.
This whiteboard video from our partners at The Michael J. Foundation’s breaks down the basics of Parkinson’s disease.
It is important to note that not everyone will experience the same symptoms, and the order in which symptoms appear and the way symptoms progress also varies from person to person.
“Parkinson’s is a very individual condition, with each person experiencing different symptoms.
Additionally, non-motor symptoms such as sleep disturbance, constipation and loss of sense of smell can pre-date the motor symptoms, such as a tremor, slowness of movement or rigidity, by up to a decade.
Parkinson’s results from the loss of cells in various parts of the brain, including a region called the substantia nigra. When dopamine production is depleted, the motor system nerves are unable to control movement and coordination. The dopamine producing cells are lost over a period of years and the motor type symptoms such as tremor, rigidity etc will start to appear.
Generally with people with Parkinson’s have generally had it for some time without realising and are only diagnosed with Parkinson’s when 80% of the dopamine producing cells are lost and the motor type symptoms appear.
Currently there is no definitive test to diagnose Parkinson’s but current research with the PPMI study is looking into ways to identify biomarkers which will detect the disease at an earlier stage.
Australian Parkinson's Statistics
Parkinson’s disease is a poorly understood disease. Many people associate the disease with an elderly relative or the odd celebrity on TV. The majority of the population understand it to be ‘just the shakes’. The reality is much different.
- Parkinson’s is the second most common neurological disease in Australia after dementia.
- The disease affects an estimated 10 million individuals worldwide – 80,000 in Australia.
- 32 Aussies are diagnosed with the disease every day.
- 20% of sufferers are under 50 years old and 10% are diagnosed before the age of 40.
- The number of people with Parkinson’s has increased by 17% in the last six years with costs to the community increasing by over 48%.
- For comparison purposes the prevalence of Parkinson’s is greater than prostate, bowel and many other forms of cancer and the total number of Parkinson’s sufferers is 4 times the number of people suffering with MS.
The above statistics were obtained from the 2015 Deliotte Access Economics report.
Is Parkinson's Genetic?
In the past 10 years, researchers have identified a number of rare instances where Parkinson’s disease appears to be caused by a single genetic mutation. In these cases, the mutated gene is passed from generation to generation, resulting in a great number of Parkinson’s disease cases within an extended family. Mutations in the LRRK2 gene are the greatest genetic contributor to Parkinson’s disease disovered to date.
While many Parkinson’s patients report one or more family members with the disease, it is not always clear that one or several genes are the cause. Scientists currently believe that in the majority of cases, genetic and environmental factors interact to cause Parkinson’s disease. Research into this subject continues aggressively every day.
Other Risk Factors of Parkinson's
Because the causes of Parkinson’s disease are unknown, there is no scientifically validated preventive course to reduce the risk of its onset. The single biggest risk factor for Parkinson’s disease is advancing age. Men have a somewhat higher risk than women.
That being said, a number of studies have highlighted factors that are associated with either greater or lesser risk of Parkinson’s disease. For example, smoking and caffeine consumption have been associated with lower rates of Parkinson’s disease, while head injury and pesticide exposure have been associated with higher risk. While such studies do not definitively link these factors with Parkinson’s disease one way or another, they highlight areas where further research may guide us to risk-prevention or treatment strategies.
Our website contains more information on the specific symptoms of Parkinson’s which include:
Shake It Up Australia have co-funded 28 Parkinson’s research projects across 12 Australian research institutes to the value of over $10.4 million.