Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system that affects more than 1.5 million people in the U.S. The frequency of the disease is considerably higher in the over-60 age group, even though there is an alarming increase of the disease among individuals of younger age.
Parkinson's disease is caused by the degeneration of the pigmented neurons in the substantia nigra, a small region in the brain stem just above the spinal cord. Cells within the substantia nigra produce and release a chemical called dopamine that controls movement and balance, and is essential to the proper functioning of the central nervous system. In Parkinson's disease, these cells degenerate and, therefore, can no longer produce adequate dopamine. When this occurs, neurons elsewhere in the brain are no longer well regulated and do not behave in a normal manner.
Parkinson's disease causes motor (movement) and nonmotor symptoms. Clinically, the disease is characterized by a decrease in spontaneous movements, gait difficulty, postural instability, rigidity and tremor. Nonmotor symptoms include diminished sense of smell, low voice volume, painful foot cramps, sleep disturbance, and depression.
While there are no treatments currently that conclusively slow the disease, there are a large number of drugs available to treat symptoms, as well as several forms of surgery and numerous nonpharmacological (non-drug) approaches. Administration of the drug Levodopa has been the standard treatment for Parkinson's disease.
American Parkinson Disease Association:
The American Parkinson Disease Association, Inc., founded in 1961, has sought to "Ease the Burden and Find the Cure" for this disease through research, patient and family support, and education. Its education program provides information and resources to individuals with Parkinson's disease, their families, friends, doctors and other medical professionals, and enhances public education and awareness of the disease. The association sponsors 65 chapters and more than 250 affiliated support groups, which provide education, counseling, assistance and referrals throughout the U.S.