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7 Facts You May Not Know About Parkinson’s Disease

Almost a year has passed since Muhammad Ali, one of  America's most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century lost his life to a decade’s long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Twenty-five years after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease; author, producer, and activist Michael J. Fox continues his advocacy for a cure through his charitable work as the founder of Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Parkinson’s disease, and while two centuries is understandably far too long for patients and their families to wait for a cure, considerable scientific strides have been made in the past few decades alone.

Parkinson’s Awareness Month reminds us that anyone, regardless of gender, age, family history or stature can experience the life-changing effects of Parkinson’s disease.

In support of Parkinson's Awareness, here's 7 essential facts you need to know:

1. Parkinson's disease is not just an ''old person's disease." While the disorder is typically diagnosed at around age 60, younger people can also be affected.

2. Diagnosing Parkinson's disease isn't simple. There's no specific test to diagnose Parkinson's disease. Instead, doctors look for four cardinal features of the movement disorder. To diagnose the disease, doctors use the mnemonic TRAP:

  • Tremor or shaking at rest, involving the thumb, entire hand, arm, chin, lips, and feet
  • Rigidity felt by the doctor when rotating a patient's wrist or elbow
  • Akinesia or bradykinesia (lack of movement or slowness of movement) when walking or swinging an arm
  • Postural instability, making it necessary to hold onto something to maintain balance when walking or rising from a chair

3. The cause of Parkinson's is still unknown. A combination of genetic and environmental factors are thought to contribute to the risk of getting Parkinson's. Several genetic mutations have been found that are linked to Parkinson's disease, and lifestyle may also play a role. Those who drink caffeine-containing drinks, for instance, have been found to have a lower risk of getting Parkinson's, although a cause-and-effect relationship has not been proven.

4. Parkinson's disease isn't just marked by tremors and other outward symptoms. While those outward symptoms are used as the basis for a diagnosis, the condition involves much more less-obvious symptoms that include sleep problems, constipation, slurred speech, and mood problems such as depression. Symptoms vary from one patient to the next

5. Treatment should be tailored to your symptoms and your preferences. While there is currently no cure for Parkinson's disease, treatment can help people live a good quality life.

6. Clinical trials are worth considering. Every time a Parkinson's disease patient visits their doctor, you may want to ask, ''What's new? Am I eligible for any new clinical trial?'' Research is constantly evolving, so it's worth asking if any trials fit your situation.

7.Stress can make the condition worse; telling people about the condition can ease it. Stress can increase symptoms. For some, one source of that stress is hiding the condition from coworkers, family, and friends. Those who have been diagnosed and have shared their story can get the emotional support needed to ease the stress of diagnosis.

Parkinson’s disease does not just affect the person living with it – it affects the entire family and an extended community of friends and loved ones.

MedicAlert Foundation's community includes thousands with Parkinson's disease. Please take a moment to share this with your family and friends as a way to help spread awareness and understanding of the disease this month.