Clinical Specialties : Movement Disorders

Parkinson’s Disease Patient Information

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a slowly progressive, chronic neurological condition that affects a small area of cells in the mid brain known as the substantia nigra. It is estimated that up to 1.5 million Americans are affected by the disease and 40,000 to 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

The cause of Parkinson’s disease remains a mystery. 15% of patients are diagnosed before age 50 and the disease affects one of every 100 persons over the age of 60.

What happens is clearer than why it happens. Cells begin to die in a small deep area of the brain, the substantia nigra . These cells of the substantia nigra manufacture dopamine, a chemical messenger that is necessary for ease of movement. As the cells degenerate, the amount of dopamine in the brain decreases. Symptoms of Parkinson’s appear when about 70-80% of these cells die.

Thanks to research and healthier lifestyle choices, many people now live well into their eighties, adding to the impression that the incidence of Parkinson’s disease is increasing. While there is, as yet no cure for this condition, progressive treatments allow many patients to maintain a high level of function throughout their lifetimes

Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms:

This decrease in dopamine can produce one or more of the classic signs of Parkinson’s disease:

  • Resting tremor on one side of the body
  • Generalized slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
  • Stiffness of limbs (rigidity)
  • Gait or balance problems (postural dysfunction)
  • Other symptoms observed in some persons:
  • Small cramped handwriting (micrographia)
  • Lack of arm swing on the affected side or slight foot drag on the affected side
  • Decreased facial expression (hypomimia)
  • Lowered voice volume (dysarthria)
  • Feelings of depression or anxiety
  • Episodes of feeling “stuck in place” when initiating a step (freezing)
  • Less frequent blinking and swallowing

Few patients experience all of these symptoms and some may experience other signs.

Parkinson’s Diagnosis:

There is no definitive blood test or X-ray to confirm diagnosis. The diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is one of clinical judgment, based on a thorough neurological examination. The diagnosis of Parkinson’s based on the person’s symptoms, medical history and response to medications. Tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and/or blood work can help rule out conditions that may produce similar symptoms such as stroke or a brain tumor. Once a probable diagnosis is established, medications are prescribed, and the diagnosis is confirmed if the symptoms improve.

Parkinson’s Treatment :

The goal of treatment is to maximize independence and quality of life for people who have Parkinson’s disease. Treatment may include medication, surgery, and rehabilitation therapy.

Medications currently provide the most effective Parkinson’s treatment. There are a variety of medications aimed at controlling and alleviating the symptoms. Because every person who has Parkinson’s has individual symptoms and responses to medication, treatment is tailored to the individual, and may require a combination of several different medications.

For those whose tremor does not respond to the usual medical treatments, surgery may be an option. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery involves placement of a wire electrode into an area of the brain called the thalamus. This electrode is connected to a stimulator, somewhat like that of a cardiac pacemaker. The stimulator is then implanted beneath the skin under the collarbone. The patient can switch on the stimulator with a hand-held control, sending electronic pulses to the brain to interrupt the signals that cause tremor. Research indicates that DBS can also control other symptoms, such as slow movement and rigidity, and complications such as dyskinesia.

Physical, occupational, or speech therapy combined with modifications in the home environment can help individuals with Parkinson’s achieve maximum comfort, safety and independence.

Giving Opportunities:

The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Parkinson’s Program has been designated as a Center of Excellence because of its outstanding care of patients and ground breaking research. The expansion of the clinical treatment program that would include a comprehensive assessment by a team of health care professionals is our long term goal. A Physician, an Advance Registered Nurse Practitioner, an Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, Speech Therapist and Social Worker would each complete an individual assessment. Funding for physician scientists and specialists are the main priorities.

Endowed Chair $2M
($100K per year funding for a minimum of five years) $500K
Endowed Fellowship $1M
($50K per year funding for a minimum of two years) $100K
Program Facility Renovation and Equipment $2M
Parkinson’s Research Fund $2M
Parkinson’s Patient Education Fund $250K