Parkinson disease (PD) is a progressive neurological disorder.  It mainly affects parts of the brain controlling movement.  Cells in the brain (in a place called the substantia nigra) produce an important chemical called dopamine.  When a person moves, dopamine is involved in producing movements that are smooth and coordinated.  Many people have symptoms between the ages of 50 and 60 years, but some have symptoms at a much younger age (young onset), others at a much older age.  As symptoms start to interfere with how one is able to do everyday things, there are treatments that can help.

What Causes Parkinson disease?

For reasons that we don't yet understand, the cells that produce dopamine start to not function properly.  They don’t make enough dopamine for movements to happen the way they did when there was enough dopamine in the system.  To date, no one knows exactly how or why PD starts.  Many researchers are trying to find the answers; and as it stands it looks as if aging, things in the environment (toxins or poisons) and abnormalities in some genes may trigger the changes in the body that lead to Parkinson disease.

How is Parkinson disease Diagnosed?

A doctor, often a neurologist or family doctor, will take a medical history and conduct an examination.  They will make the diagnosis based on what they see and on the information provided to them.  There is no blood test or laboratory exam that diagnoses PD.  An MRI or CT scan may be ordered so the doctor knows that nothing else is going on (tumor, small stroke or other things).  Medication is typically started when symptoms interfere with what you want to do.


What does Parkinson Disease Look Like?

Initially, most people will notice changes on one side of the body.  It may be a tremor when an arm or leg is resting, doing nothing; it might be handwriting getting smaller; it may be a feeling of slowing down; one's face may lose some of its expression looking bored or depressed (even if a person is not); or footsteps get smaller.  These are just a few common things people notice before they know about Parkinson disease.  Everyone is different and changes are unique to every individual.  It is important to remember that how Parkinson's looks on one person will not be identical to someone else with PD.


There are four main (motor) symptoms in Parkinson disease:

  • Tremor - a tembling or shaking that is involuntary and usually seen in the hands or the legs when they are just resting.  (Not everyone with a tremor has PD and not everyone with PD has a tremor)
  • Slow movements (bradykinesia) - describes when you want to move, everything is slowed down and it takes more time and/or effort to move
  • Rigidity - stiffness of muscles
  • Difficulties with walking and balance - balance becomes impaired, footsteps get smaller


There are many other symptoms that people with Parkinson disease may experience (though not always, nor all of them) as time goes on.  These are typically referred to as non-motor symptoms and can include (but are not limited to):  sleep disturbances, changes in speech and swallowing, fatigue, mood changes, constipation and memory and thinking changes.



With Parkinson disease, over time symptoms will get worse and may change to include more/different symptoms than when first diagnosed.  This usually happens slowly, over years symptoms will progress over time; however symptoms tend to progress more rapidly in comparison to Parkinson's.   Life expectancy for those with Parkinson disease is the same as those without Parkinson's.



Without a cure, management of symptoms becomes the focus of PD and it involves a team of healthcare professionals. The typical person with Parkinson may  have a family physician, neurologist or movement disorder specialist, pharmacist, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, social worker/psychologist, speech and language pathologist, and dietician working with them.
There are many drug- and therapy-based treatments used to control symptoms of PD and slow their progression to improve an individual's quality of life. Surgery, including the implantation of a deep brain stimulator, can be helpful for someParkinson disea


How Parkinson Association of Alberta can help

Parkinson Association of Alberta recognizes that every person is unique and so is the treatment of a Parkinson disease and Parkinson's Plus Syndromes. We  provide support, services and programs for all people with Parkinsonism conditions (and their families).  These supports and services include one-on-one/family supportive counselling, Support Groups, information and resources, education sessions, assistance in identifying and locating community and government resources, and much more.  To find out more please visit yourRegional webpage or call us toll-free at 1-800-561-1911.


Top of Page