Toe-to-toe with Parkinson’s disease
Anglos comprise most of the nearly one million Americans living with Parkinson’s, but of the ethnic minority groups, the disease is twice as likely to strike Hispanics than African Americans or Asians, according to a study by the Washington University School of Medicine published in the April 2010 journal of Neuroepidemiology.
Although the reason for this is not known, the study indicates that genetics and environmental factors play a role.
Moguel says education is the key to increasing awareness about the disease in the Latino community. Early diagnosis and treatment help ensure as positive a life experience as possible.
This is the reason the center has launched several outreach efforts specifically for Hispanic patients like Gonzalez. Moguel says these patients often feel more at ease when they are surrounded by those who share their culture.
“We want to educate the Hispanic Parkinson’s disease population. We need to reach this population with stronger effort so they can be more in tune with their disease,” says Moguel. “Knowing more will make them take advantage of this information and suffer less from it. In the long term it will pay them back.”
Motor and non-motor symptoms
The most commonly known symptoms of Parkinson’s are physical: tremors, rigidity, slowness, muscle stiffness and instability.
However, there are non-motor symptoms that also manifest themselves. Some are benign and are not necessarily indicative of the condition, explains Moguel.
Because the disorder begins in the lower brain and advances upward, the symptoms range greatly. The first symptoms can be severe constipation, bladder complications and drooling. As the disease progresses, depression and anxiety can also occur. Moguel says that as many as 70 percent of patients experience depression or anxiety.
Other non-motor symptoms include dementia, visual hallucinations, paranoia, pain and severe itching. Patients can also suffer from REM sleep behavioral disorder, in which vivid dreams often causes them to flail their arms, punch or act out the scenario in their dreams.
By the time the typical motor symptoms surface, Moguel says patients have lost 75 percent of the cells that produce dopamine, the neurotransmitter that plays key roles in cognition, movement, mood, sleep, learning and other basic functions.
However, Moguel is optimistic that with early diagnosis, regular treatment and diligent exercise, the outlook of living a fulfilling life with Parkinson’s is encouraging.
“We believe in an integrative way of treating the patient – with physical, occupational and speech therapy. The more you remain active, the better balance and gait you will have in the long term,” he says. “We always see a patient as someone who is going to run a marathon, not just a race. We want to keep patients as active as possible.”
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