Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition that affects the brain as a person ages, causing degeneration or deterioration of certain brain cells over time. The primary symptoms of this condition include impaired balance, difficulty with muscle control, slowed movement, and tremors. In addition to physical symptoms, Parkinson’s disease can also have impacts on mental health and cognitive function, which may worsen as the condition progresses.
Who is impacted by it?
In many cases, the cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown (idiopathic), but in some cases, it may be inherited. The average age for developing Parkinson’s disease is 60, and the risk of developing it increases with age. This disease is also more common in men than in women.
While Parkinson’s disease is typically age-related, there have been some rare cases of individuals developing it as young as 20 years old. In rare cases where individuals develop Parkinson’s disease at a young age, it is often the case that a parent or sibling also has the condition.
How prevalent is it?
It is estimated that at least 1% of the population over the age of 60 is affected by Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is the most common motor or movement-related brain disease and ranks the second most common age-related degenerative brain disease.
What triggers Parkinson’s disease?
While there are several potential risk factors for Parkinson’s disease, such as exposure to pesticides and other chemicals, the only confirmed cause currently known is genetic. If the cause of Parkinson’s disease is not genetic, it is referred to as idiopathic (a Greek term meaning unknown). This means that the cause of the disease is currently unknown. Some conditions resemble Parkinson’s disease and are referred to as Parkinsonism.
Here is a more in-depth analysis of the causes of Parkinson’s disease:
- Genetic or familial factors – Researchers have identified at least seven different genetic alterations that may be associated with Parkinson’s disease. Of these, three have been linked to early-onset Parkinson’s disease (before the age of 60). Parkinson’s disease can be inherited from one or both parents, but only 10% of cases are caused by inherited genetic factors.
- Idiopathic causes – Some researchers believe that idiopathic Parkinson’s disease may be caused by problems with the alpha-synuclein protein. These proteins are chemical molecules with a specific shape, but if they become misfolded, they can become useless and can’t be used or discarded. Clumps of these proteins called Lewy bodies can build up inside cells or other areas, causing toxic cell damage. Researchers are focusing heavily on the role of Lewy bodies in the development of Parkinson’s disease, as they believe they may provide critical insights into the cause of the disease.
- Environmental factors – Exposure to certain toxins or chemicals in the environment or repeated head injuries from high-impact sports like boxing or football may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease later in life. Some medications may also cause symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, but these symptoms typically go away once the medication is stopped.
Currently, there is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease and medications are the primary way to treat the symptoms and improve quality of life.