Parkinson’s disease affects the brain by destroying the neurons that produce dopamine. Because of this loss of dopamine, people with Parkinson’s develop slowness of movements with stiffness or resting tremors. They also can have a shuffling gait, decreased arm swing, lower volume of their voice, decreased facial expressions, problems with their sense of smell and issues with depression, anxiety, sleep, constipation, blood pressure and balance.

If you or a loved one is in need of care for Parkinson’s disease, contact Justin Martello, M.D., and Patrick Kerns, M.D., at 302-623-3017.

We still do not know the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease. We think it may be caused by a combination of environmental factors and genetic susceptibility. We do not know all the environmental factors, but some that we do know include certain farming and manufacturing chemicals, welding exposures and carbon monoxide exposure.

Only about 10% to 15% of people with Parkinson’s disease have a clear genetic link in their family. Most people with Parkinson’s are the only person in their family to have the disease.

While there is a nuclear medicine imaging test called a DaT scan and a skin biopsy test called Syn-One that can help with the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, the diagnosis is often made by history and exam from a neurologist — usually one specialized in movement disorders. Because there is so much involved in the diagnosis and management of Parkinson’s disease, and because research is continually revealing new information, a movement disorders specialist should be involved in the care of Parkinson’s patients.

Parkinson’s disease is not widely understood among the general public, and there are many myths about the disease.

Parkinson’s disease myth-busters

Myth: Starting medication early for patients with Parkinson’s disease may cause it to not work when they are older.

Fact: This is a common misconception, especially related to the medicine carbidopa/levodopa. As Parkinson’s disease progresses, the brain has fewer dopamine receptors available to respond to the medication. It does not matter when you start medication but how long you have had symptoms. Why wait to start medications that will improve your function and quality of life?

Myth: Medication can help slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Fact: There is only one current therapy known to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease: exercise. We recommend at least 150 minutes per week with equal amounts of cardiovascular endurance training and strength training.

Myth: A person with Parkinson’s disease can suddenly become bed-bound.

Fact: No. Parkinson’s disease, for the most part, progresses in a steady linear course over many years. The only things that can complicate the progression are hospitalizations, falls and swallowing problems.

Myth: Dyskinesias movements are permanent.

Fact: Dyskinesias are involuntary writhing or dance-like movements of different parts of the body. They may be side effects later in Parkinson’s disease from being on the drug levodopa. There are many ways to manage this complication, and it is not a permanent side effect. Most patients who develop dyskinesias are not bothered by them and would rather be in motion than in an “off” state where the medication levels are too low in their system.

Myth: Everyone with Parkinson’s develops the same symptoms.

Fact: Parkinson’s disease is truly a spectrum of a disease with different symptoms and progression for each patient. While there are common features and problems of Parkinson’s, it does not mean that everyone will develop the same symptoms at all or at the same time.

Learn more about Parkinson’s disease

ChristianaCare hosts a Parkinson’s Disease Education and Support Group and offers a newsletter. For general Parkinson’s disease information, I recommend: