Parkinson’s Disease

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Parkinson’s is a progressive and fluctuating illness that can affect all aspects of daily living. Yet despite pioneering research, the causes of this condition are still unknown and there is no cure.

Symptoms are usually first noticed over the age of 50 and it is slightly more common in men than women. However although there isn’t a treatment for Parkinson’s and no two people experience it in the same way, your symptoms can be treated and physiotherapy and occupational therapy support can help make daily living easier.

Here you will find a brief overview of symptoms and where to find out more about getting a diagnosis, treatment options and help available from specialist organisations nationally and locally to help you or a relative or friend who has Parkinson’s.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a disease of the brain and central nervous system. It progresses over time and affects movement such as walking, talking and writing. It occurs due to loss of cells in the brain that produce a substance called dopamine.

Dopamine helps transmit messages from your brain to various muscles, particularly those that control and co-ordinate body movement.  As more cells die and less dopamine is produced, messages are sent more slowly and abnormally and symptoms of the condition appear when around 80% of the dopamine has been lost. The level of dopamine continues to fall over many years. 

Could you be at risk?

The risk of developing Parkinson’s increases with age but the reason why dopamine levels fall is unknown.

In the vast majority of cases it is not hereditary although genes linked to Parkinson’s have been identified.  It is rare to find more than one person in a family with Parkinson’s although there is some evidence of genetic susceptibility. Most researchers believe multiple factors play a role.  Current research is focusing on interactions between genetic susceptibility and environmental factors that include virus’ and toxins.

Recognising symptoms

Parkinson’s tends to develop gradually. Symptoms can vary from person to person and it can be months before people feel they are significant enough to raise with their GP. However if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned below it is important to discuss them with your GP. 

The three most common symptoms are:

  • Tremor – shaking usually in one arm or hand.  It is likely to occur while at rest and decrease when the arm or hand is used. It is the first symptom reported by around 70% people diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
  • Muscle stiffness or rigidity – this may cause problems when attempting to get up out of a chair or fasten a button.
  • Slowness of movement – this particularly affects initiating a movement or in the time it takes to complete it. 

Some people report other symptoms including constipation, disturbed sleep and depression.

Diagnosis and treatment

If your GP suspects you may have Parkinson’s, you should be referred to a neurologist or geriatrician with expertise in Parkinson’s.  It is a complex condition and there isn’t a reliable test that tells whether you have Parkinson’s or not. A specialist with experience of Parkinson’s is needed to diagnose and provide treatment tailored to meet your particular needs on diagnosis and following reviews every 6 – 12 months.

Self care and self management courses are available to help increase your confidence and take more control in managing your condition. Ask your GP if there any Expert Patient courses available locally.

Best treatment guidance

In June 2006, NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) produced guidelines on the diagnosis and effective treatment of Parkinson’s disease. It includes recommendations for all health staff on appropriate treatment, drugs, therapies such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy and other aspects of care.

A patient version of this guidance is available on request or can be downloaded from their website. You can find out how to contact their orderline in the Further Information section.

Help and support

Parkinson's UK is a national charity that offers support to people with Parkinson’s and their carers. They have a comprehensive website, a wide range of factsheets and booklets, a telephone helpline and email enquiry service.  They also have local support groups for people with Parkinson’s and their carers.

Social care support

If you are having difficulties with day-to-day activities, even with the help of your partner, family and friends, it is important to contact your local social services department and ask for an assessment.  This can determine what practical support you and/or your partner may be eligible to receive.

Involvement of an occupational therapist in your assessment can identify any alterations to your home or equipment that would allow you to live there more comfortably and safely.

Financial support

If you have difficulties with personal care and day-to-day tasks or need watching over to make sure you are all right, you may be eligible to claim a non means tested benefit – Disability Living Allowance if you are under 65 or Attendance Allowance if you are 65 and over. You can find out more about these and other benefits you may be entitled to claim in the Age UK Guide(title to be confirmed)  or by calling Age UK.

Travel and transport

If you have difficulty walking any distance and using public transport, you may want to contact your local council about a Blue Badge that allows you to park close to where you want to go. It may be necessary for your doctor to be contacted to confirm your need for a Blue Badge.

Further Information

This Government website has useful information under the headings ‘money, tax and benefits’; caring for someone’ and ‘travel and transport’.

Parkinson’s UK 
helpline: 0808 800 0303 (freephone)
email enquiry:

NHS Choices website

Parkinson’s disease can be found in the Health A-Z section

Orderline: 0845 003 7783
CG35 Parkinson’s disease: diagnosis and management in primary and secondary care. The patient version of the guideline can be found under the heading – Understanding NICE guidance.

Tel: 020 7427 2460
Ricability is an independent research charity dedicated to providing free, practical and unbiased information of value to older and disabled people. 

It has a range of reports on products and services including ‘Getting in and out of a car’, ‘Making your kitchen easier’ and ‘Choosing domestic appliances’.

Reports can be downloaded from their website. Some reports are available as free publications. Call the above number to find out whether a printed version is available.

We are grateful for the generous support of Dr Naim Dangoor CBE
and the Exilarch Foundation

Your Age UK

Set your location to see what Age UK offers in your local area.

Age UK Advice:
0800 169 6565
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Useful websites

  • The Health A-Z section of this website contains information on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of many types of illnesses.

  • The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has produced guidance on the early assessment and treatment of NHS patients

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