Your Guide to Parkinson’s Disease Treatment

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The Stages of Parkinson's Disease Treatment

  • senior-woman-looking-serious
    A Personalized Approach to Treatment
    Celebrities including Michael J. Fox, Linda Ronstadt, and Muhammad Ali have shined the light on Parkinson’s disease by going public about their battles. As many as one million Americans share their disease and live with its daily challenges. There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but treatment advances have helped tremendously to improve the quality of life of those affected. No single treatment is right for everyone because the disease progresses differently for each person. Here’s a summary of treatment strategies for each stage of Parkinson’s.
  • Doctor examining female Senior patient
    Parkinson’s Staging
    Doctors use tools to rate the severity of each person’s symptoms. Today, the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) tool is the most common tool for following progression and treatment response. It rates the severity of motor function, activities of daily living, and mental function. Generally, Parkinson’s is staged as early or mild, moderate, or advanced or late-stage. Lower UPDRS scores indicate greater function and earlier staging. High scores show declining function and advanced staging.
  • Woman stretching in yoga pose with palm facing down
    Early-Stage Treatment
    Early-stage Parkinson’s includes people who have had the disease for less than five years or those with mild symptoms. Treatment for early-stage disease includes medications and non-medication strategies. Your doctor may recommend stretching, strengthening and balance exercises along with dietary changes. Medicines can include levodopa, dopamine agonists, and MAO-B inhibitors. Your age and functional level will help your doctor determine which of these is the best starting choice for you.
  • Home Health Speech Therapy Session Outdoors
    Treating Moderate Parkinson’s Disease
    As Parkinson’s disease progresses, symptoms become more noticeable and it becomes more difficult to complete activities and tasks. Everyday life becomes a challenge. Medications may start to wear off between doses or cause problematic side effects. At this point, your doctor may recommend physical, occupational or speech therapy if you haven’t yet started them. You may also need other medications, such as COMT inhibitors or amantadine. Your doctor may recommend additional medicines to treat drug side effects.
  • Young African American female dermatologist talking to older Caucasian female patient
    Advanced Treatments
    Symptoms of late-stage Parkinson’s disease progress to the point that it’s impossible to live alone. People at this stage need help with activities of daily living and can’t get around by themselves. Mental and emotional difficulties may start up. Your doctor will balance the benefits of medications with side effects. People whose symptoms no longer respond to medications may be candidates for deep brain stimulation surgery. Surgery isn’t a cure, but it can significantly help improve functioning in eligible candidates.
  • Middle-aged woman taking pills
    Managing Medications
    Managing Parkinson’s disease with medications becomes more complicated as the disease progresses. At some point, you will likely need a combination of many medicines. You may be taking medicines on a schedule; these may interact with food and other drugs throughout the day. It can be overwhelming, especially when missed doses lead to worsening symptoms. Work closely with your doctor or pharmacist. They can suggest tools and charts to help you stay organized and on track.
  • Women walking for exercise
    Living With Parkinson’s at Any Stage
    There are many strategies and therapies to help people in all stages of Parkinson’s disease live well. There is evidence that people who are actively engaged in their own Parkinson’s care plan experience measurable improvements in symptoms. An occupational therapist can evaluate your home for ways to help maintain your independence. Make sure your medical team has multidisciplinary providers to assist with nutrition, sleep, emotional, sensory and digestive issues. Support groups can help you and your family better cope with the disease.
  • senior woman lying on yoga mat
    Key Takeaways
    Living with Parkinson’s disease isn’t easy, even if loss of function is subtle and progresses slowly. It’s frustrating to lose control over your body, but you can control what to do about it. Stay involved in your care and educate yourself. For help finding resources, including local organizations, visit the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation resource page.
The Stages of Parkinson's Disease Treatment

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. Statistics on Parkinson's. Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. http://www.pdf.org/en/parkinson_statistics 
  2. Treatment. National Parkinson Foundation.http://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/treatment
  3. Progression. Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. http://www.pdf.org/en/progression_parkinsons
  4. Hoehn and Yahr Staging of Parkinson's Disease, Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS), and Schwab and England Activities of Daily Living. Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. http://neurosurgery.mgh.harvard.edu/functional/pdstages.htm
  5. Rao SS, Hofmann LA, Shakil A. Parkinson's disease: diagnosis and treatment. Am Fam Physician. 200615;74(12):2046-54. 
  6. Prescription Medications. Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. http://www.pdf.org/parkinson_prescription_meds
  7. Managing Your PD. Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. http://www.pdf.org/managing_pd
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 5
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