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April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month

April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, an opportunity to learn more about the disease, to help raise public awareness, and to seek out ways to help the cause. April 11, Parkinson’s Disease Day, is the birthday of James Parkinson, the English doctor who first described the disease in an 1817 essay. The red tulip was adopted as the symbol for Parkinson’s disease (PD) when a Dutch horticulturalist with PD, J.W.S. Van der Wereld, developed a red and white tulip after Dr. James Parkinson.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system most common in people over 50. The disorder is caused by the death of dopamine-containing cells in the brain, though what causes the cells to die is unknown. Movement related symptoms present themselves early in the onset of the disease. Among the most apparent symptoms are shaking, rigidness, slowed movement, and difficulty walking. Cognitive and behavioural problems usually arise as the disease progresses. Dementia often occurs in the late stages of Parkinson’s disease.

Current treatments for PD include drugs that increase dopamine concentrations and others that activate dopamine receptors. Unfortunately, the drugs fail to maintain their effectiveness over the progression of the disease. In addition, the drugs can produce negative side effects. Physical therapy and a balanced diet are also included in an effective treatment regimen. In the case of severe motor impairment, surgery and deep brain stimulation are employed. New areas of development in PD research include gene therapy, stem cell transplants, and neuroprotective agents.

Medical alert jewelry is recommended for people with Parkinson’s disease. In an emergency, the symptoms of the disease in a person not wearing a medical id bracelet or medical ID necklace could be misconstrued as intoxication. Also. if a treating physician were unaware of the PD, certain drugs blocking dopamine receptors could worsen the movement disorder. An MRI can interfere with implanted medical devices like deep brain stimulators. A medical ID bracelet or necklace is also useful in the case that a PD patient suffering from dementia becomes lost and disoriented. The medical alert jewelry would help the loved one find their way home again.

Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali, both living with PD, have raised awareness for the disorder by means of their celebrity and public support for research. The Michael J. Fox Foundation, founded in 2000 by the actor, is dedicated to funding research to find a cure for Parkinson’s and to improve therapies for those currently living with PD.

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation provides tips for getting involved in Parkinson’s Awareness Month by spreading the word, educating yourself and others, and supporting the cure. You can spread the word by contacting your public officials for a proclamation of support for Parkinson’s awareness and research. Learn more about PD by attending a Parkinson’s awareness event near you. You can also sign the Global Parkinson’s Pledge to help the World Parkinson Congress meet their goal of one million signatures by their next meeting in 2013. Most importantly for the success of Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, remember what you have learned and spread the word throughout the year and beyond.

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