6 Things to Know About Parkinson's Disease

  • young woman wrapping arms around older woman as they gaze out a window; caregiver concept
    Get the Facts About Parkinson’s Disease
    Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that causes problems with coordination and movement. As a progressive disease, PD symptoms worsen with time, and some people develop dementia in addition to the characteristic movement problems. While no Parkinson’s cure yet exists, researchers continue to investigate new treatments that may eventually make PD a disease of the past. Learn the early signs of PD, how doctors diagnose Parkinson’s disease, and how gene therapy may lead to a cure.
  • Latino man at a table filling in paperwork or writing
    1. Parkinson’s disease can occur as early as age 21.
    Although most people with PD are diagnosed after 60, people as young as age 21 can develop the disease. The signs of early-onset Parkinson’s are the same as those in older people: slowness of movement, tremor, and muscle rigidity (stiffness). Because PD can run in families, any younger person who comes from a family with a history of Parkinson’s and who exhibits any of these signs should talk to a doctor for more information about Parkinson’s disease.
  • neurologist discusses MRI scan on digital tablet with patient
    2. No definitive test for Parkinson’s exists.
    Unlike some other diseases that can be detected through blood tests or imaging scans, no definitive test for Parkinson’s disease yet exists. Instead, doctors diagnose PD with a thorough medical and family history and a physical exam. If a patient exhibits at least two of the three hallmark signs of PD—tremor, muscle rigidity, slow movement—then a doctor will consider a PD diagnosis. Sometimes, to achieve a diagnosis, a doctor may start a patient on a Parkinson’s medicine to see how the person responds. If symptoms improve, then the doctor may diagnose the patient with PD.
  • Parkinson's disease and molecular genetics printed on paperwork next to test tubes
    3. Researchers don’t yet know what causes Parkinson’s disease.
    Researchers continue to investigate what causes Parkinson’s disease. For 2019, the National Institutes of Health funded $224 million in PD research; there are also private sources of funding. As yet, the precise reasons why people develop the disorder remain unclear.

    Scientists have identified mutations in a number of genes in people with PD, but what causes these mutations is not known. These gene mutations affect cell function in various ways, including making some cells unable to clean up waste products that may subsequently impair neurological functions. PD appears to be inheritable, so anyone with a family history of Parkinson’s should investigate their own possible signs of the disease.
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    4. Parkinson’s disease can cause Parkinson’s dementia.
    People with PD often develop a type of dementia called Lewy body dementia, or LBD. However, LBD also can develop in people who do not have Parkinson’s. For clarity, the term LBD is used to refer to a specific subtype of dementia that develops in the absence of PD. “Parkinson’s dementia” is the term for people with PD who subsequently develop dementia. Lewy bodies are abnormal protein deposits that accumulate in the brain and cause problems with cognition and motor function. The precise relationship between Lewy bodies and PD is under investigation.
  • Male doctor's hand examining sheet of brain MRI scans
    5. Researchers investigate causes and treatments for Parkinson’s.
    Every year, thousands of researchers investigate a wide array of hypotheses related to PD in hopes of better understanding its causes and developing targeted treatments. Researchers currently are looking into the role of neuroinflammation in PD, the biology of gene mutations in PD, deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s, biomarkers that might lead to a definitive test for PD, and many other exciting angles that may ultimately lead to a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
  • Grandfather playing in park with granddaughter
    6. Gene therapy may ultimately deliver a cure for Parkinson’s.
    So-called “designer DNA” gene therapy involves creating lab-made pieces of DNA that can influence how real genes inside the body perform. In one test of designer DNA for PD, researchers induced Parkinson’s in mice. They then used a non-infectious virus to deliver the designer DNA segment to the mice’s midbrain. The repaired DNA successfully blocked production of a specific protein, which ultimately led to new nerve cell (neuron) growth. The mice that received the treatment experienced new growth of dopamine-producing neurons and lost all signs of PD and—a result that could eventually unlock a cure for Parkinson’s.
6 Things to Know About Parkinson's Disease

About The Author

As “the nurse who knows content,” Elizabeth Hanes, RN, works with national and regional healthcare systems, brands, agencies and publishers to produce all types of consumer-facing content. Formerly a perioperative and cosmetic surgery nurse, Elizabeth today uses her nursing knowledge to inform her writing on a wide variety of medical, health and wellness topics.
  1. Parkinson’s Disease. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/parkinsonsdisease.html
  2. One-Time Treatment Generates New Neurons, Eliminates Parkinson’s Disease in Mice. UC San Diego. https://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/pressrelease/one-time-treatment-generates-new-neurons-eliminates-parkinsons-disease-in-mice
  3. Qian H, Kang X, Hu J, et al. One-Time Treatment Generates New Neurons, Eliminates Parkinson’s Disease in Mice. Nature. 2020 Jun;582(7813):550-556. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2388-4. Epub 2020 Jun 24. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32581380/
  4. Movement Symptoms. Parkinson’s Foundation. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Movement-Symptoms
  5. Diagnosing Parkinson’s. American Parkinson Disease Association. https://www.apdaparkinson.org/what-is-parkinsons/diagnosing/
  6. What is LBD? Lewy Body Dementia Association. https://www.lbda.org/go/what-lbd-0
  7. Parkinson’s Disease Dementia. Alzheimer’s Association. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia/types-of-dementia/parkinson-s-disease-dementia
  8. Parkinson’s Disease. Genetics Home Reference. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/parkinson-disease#genes
  9. Lewy Body Dementia. Alzheimer’s Association. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia/types-of-dementia/lewy-body-dementia
  10. Centers for Advanced Research. Parkinson’s Foundation. https://www.apdaparkinson.org/research/advanced-centers/
  11. Focus On Parkinson's Disease Research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Current-Research/Focus-Disorders/Parkinsons-Disease

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jul 10
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