Parkinson’s disease, or PD as it is sometimes referred to, is a progressive neurological condition. It was named after James Parkinson, the London doctor who first reported the symptoms in 1817 calling it the “shaking palsy”. PD is mostly characterized by problems with body movements referred to as “motor symptoms”. The most identifiable motor symptom is a tremor. Other difficulties that are not related to movement can also occur such as pain, sleep disturbance, sensory problems and depression. These are known as “non-motor symptoms”. According to the Global Declaration for Parkinson’s Disease, 6.3 million people have PD worldwide affecting all races and cultures. The age of onset is usually over 60 however, it is estimated one in ten people are diagnosed before the age of 50, slightly more men than women. Parkinson’s is life-altering however, it is not life-threatening.
Parkinson’s disease is the result of an abnormal destruction of brains cells that produce dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is critical in driving the way the brain controls our movements. If there is not enough dopamine a person cannot control movements well and many times cannot move at all. Dopamine also helps control our brains ability to function with respect to memory, attention to detail and problem-solving tasks.
There are four main motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease: tremors, stiffness of the limbs and trunk, slowness of movement, and impaired balance. These symptoms start very gradually and grow worse with time. People with the disease eventually have trouble with walking, talking and completing simple tasks. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease and as previously mentioned, it is not fatal, but complications such as choking, pneumonia or falls may lead to death.
Sensory problems are also very common in Parkinson’s and may include visual loss, loss of smell, hearing problems, and “restless legs” syndrome (RLS). Visual signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may include defects in visual acuity, side vision, color vision, eye movements, pupil function, blink reflex, and more complex visual tasks that involve the ability to judge distance or the shape of an object. Double vision may also occur. The ability to process something visually slows especially for rapidly changing visual situations like watching children play. Facial recognition can become a problem and many Parkinson’s patients also experience visual hallucinations.
By identifying and correcting visual problems as far as possible with prescription lenses and in some cases surgery, a Parkinson’s patient may significantly improve their quality of life. Eliminating or reducing visual issues have proven to affect overall motor function and reduce the possibility of developing hallucinations. Care for the Parkinson’s patient should include a comprehensive eye and vision health exam on a yearly basis. Co-existing eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration must be monitored and treated when possible to preserve vision and hopefully play a role in improving motor function.
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