More than one million people in the United States suffer from Parkinson disease. This neurodegenerative condition most often occurs after the age of 60 and is slightly more common in men.
Parkinson disease affects an area of the brain called the substantia nigra causing these brain cells to die or become impaired. These neurons produce dopamine, which is the chemical messenger that allows the body's muscles and motor system to function normally. The loss of dopamine neurons results in the inability to control movements properly.
While there are many possible symptoms of Parkinson disease, the four cardinal features include:
The earliest motor symptoms typically appear on one side of the body and may include only one or two of the above; no one person develops all of the possible symptoms. Early symptoms are often subtle, and may include small cramped handwriting, softening of the voice or reduced arm swing, among others.
Loss of sense of smell may be another very early sign of Parkinson disease and appears to precede the motor symptoms by many years. IND is conducting research to better understand if loss of the sense of smell may be a precursor for Parkinson disease.
Parkinson disease is a slowly progressive condition. Both the rate of progression and the symptoms are variable from person to person. Current research efforts at IND, are focused on early detection prevention and, slowing progression of the disease as well as improving symptomatic treatment.
Making a diagnosis of Parkinson disease currently depends on the clinical judgment of experienced physicians. The research team at IND has been a leader in the development of imaging tests that provide information about the integrity of the dopamine system. These imaging tools provide information that compliments the clinical evaluation and leads to a more accurate diagnosis.