Parkinson's disease is one of the most common adult neurological conditions, affecting an estimated 10 million adults globally. Despite its prevalence and increased awareness through the work of public service campaigns and the efforts of magnates such as Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox, the disease is often misunderstood. It is important to be aware of the facts so that you can optimize care and maximize quality of life. Here are some of the most common misconceptions:
Myth: Parkinson’s only affects movement.
Fact: Parkinson’s disease affects multiple areas of the brain and thus results in many symptoms. Non-motor symptoms can include impaired sense of smell, sleep disorders, cognitive difficulties, constipation/ bladder problems, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, pain, anxiety and depression.
Myth: Parkinson's only affects older people.
Fact: While the majority of patients develop the condition in their fifties or early sixties, about 10% of people are diagnosed before age 40.
Myth: All individuals with Parkinson’s disease have tremors.
Fact: While a tremor is the most recognized symptom of Parkinson’s disease, approximately 30% of sufferers never experience any tremors.
Myth: Parkinson’s disease can “flare up” unexpectedly.
Fact: Although symptoms may fluctuate throughout the day, the progression of the disease is very slow. If symptoms worsen over days or weeks, infections, medication side effects, stress or another medical problem may be to blame.
Myth: Only medical intervention helps.
Fact: Lifestyle modifications, including regular exercise, muscle strengthening therapies and a healthy diet, can reduce the severity of symptoms and improve quality of life. A study published in Geriatrics and Gerontology International found that Parkinson's patients who exercised for one-hour every week reported improvements in daily activities while their non-active counterparts did not.
Myth: Parkinson’s is genetic.
Fact: Only 5-10 percent of cases have a true genetic link. The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown. While genetics may play a role, many researchers also believe that environmental factors impact risk.
Myth: Parkinson’s disease is fatal.
Fact: Parkinson’s disease itself will not cause death. Swallowing problems make sufferers more prone to respiratory infections like pneumonia, but many people never experience this and can live for decades after diagnosis.
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