Loneliness and Parkinson’s Disease: What’s the Connection?

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Published on 03/12/2020 . 3 mins read
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Our mental health can have a big impact on our overall health. In particular, researchers have discovered a link between loneliness and Parkinson’s disease.

But what exactly is the connection between Parkinson’s disease and our mental health, and how can this help people with this condition?

6 Parkinson’s Disease Late-Stage Complications

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is a disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain. It’s a disease that progresses slowly, and so the symptoms and effects on a person’s health depend on their age and how far the disease has progressed.

In people with Parkinson’s, the cells in the parts of the brain that control movement start to die off. As a result, these parts of the brain produce less dopamine, which causes the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s Disease.

Here are some of the common symptoms of Parkinson’s:

  • Tremors, particularly in the hands
  • Difficulty balancing or walking
  • Difficulty moving limbs
  • Bradykinesia or slowness of movement

As the disease progresses, other symptoms such as sleep problems, changes in behavior, difficulty remembering things, and fatigue can occur. People of advanced age are usually the ones who tend to experience these symptoms.

Parkinson’s Disease in itself is not fatal. However, it can lead to serious complications such as dementia, chewing or swallowing problems, sleep disorders, depression, and anxiety. Another possible risk is that people with Parkinson’s are more prone to serious falls, and these can sometimes be fatal.

What are the causes?

Right now, we do not know exactly what causes Parkinson’s Disease. Most scientists believe that environmental factors, as well as genetics, play a role in whether or not a person develops Parkinson’s or not. It is estimated that about 10%-15% of Parkinson’s cases are the result of genetics.

Environmental factors that contribute to Parkinson’s Disease include head injuries, exposure to pesticides, and where a person lives.

Another interesting discovery that scientists have made is that inside the brain cells of many people with Parkinson’s Disease are Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies are unusual clumps of proteins that can cause a condition called Lewy body dementia. Because of this, scientists believe that there might be a deeper connection between Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s Disease.

loneliness and parkinson's

What’s the connection between loneliness and Parkinson’s?

Now that we have an idea of what Parkinson’s disease is, it’s time to discuss the connection between loneliness and Parkinson’s. Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and their colleagues conducted the study wherein they looked at the emotional and social life of the patients, as well as their nutrition and exercise habits.

They found that patients who suffered from loneliness tended to exercise less, and didn’t follow healthy diets. They also had more severe symptoms compared to patients with a healthier social life.

In addition, people who tend to be lonely or isolated are more prone to a decreased quality of life. And for people with health problems such as Parkinson’s, this can potentially make their symptoms worse, or even make their disease progress even quicker.

In particular, isolation during the pandemic can be very taxing on a person’s mental health. Even relatively healthy people without serious illness can suffer the detrimental effects of isolation while under quarantine.

This means that sick people and the elderly who are under quarantine have an even harder time compared to the rest of us.

What can be done about it?

If you have relatives who have Parkinson’s disease, it would be a good idea to spend some time with them. Visiting them, or even asking them to stay with you in the meantime can do wonders for their mental health. Being around people helps boost a person’s mood, which is especially important.

If that’s not possible, you can call them up, or even go on a video call so that they can have some quality time with their loved ones. Encourage them to try and stay active, eat healthy, and follow their doctor’s orders as well.

By doing these things, you can help your loved ones stay healthy and potentially lower their risk of developing more serious symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.

Learn more about Parkinson’s Disease here

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Parkinson Disease is a certain type of movement disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness, difficulty maintaining balance, hand-eye coordination, or any form of coordination relating to the patient’s body. Parkinson's Disease occurs when the brain’s nerve cells don’t produce enough dopamine, a neurotransmitter and hormone that plays several roles in the brain and body, including sending messages between nerve cells. Let's learn more about Parkinson's Disease cure research here.  Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease In general, symptoms develop gradually, often concentrating on one side of the body, eventually progressing to a point where both sides of the body are affected. Symptoms include: Trembling of body parts, notably the jaw, face, hands, arms, and legs Slowness and clumsiness of movement Severely debilitated balance and coordination Stiffness of certain body parts, such as the trunk, arms, and legs In later stages, and as symptoms worsen, people with the disease begin to struggle with talking, walking, and fulfilling simple tasks. Symptoms also include but are not limited to Trouble with sleeping Depression Difficulty controlling the mouth with regards to chewing, swallowing, or speaking Parkinson's Disease Cure Research In recent years, there has been no specific test developed for Parkinson’s Disease, thus creating difficulty in diagnosing patients. Medical practitioners relied on neurological examinations and medical history to determine if a patient is afflicted with the disorder.  Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease at this time, medicines, surgical treatment, and different forms of therapy have been developed to help patients in alleviating the symptoms they experience. Medication for Parkinson Medications designed for Parkinson’s Disease generally comprise 3 categories: 1. Medicines that aim to increase the brain’s dopamine levels The most prevalent drugs for Parkinson’s Disease are dopamine precursors. This includes substances including levodopa, which cross the barrier between the blood and the brain, which in turn are transformed into the much needed dopamine for the patient. Several other drugs aim to copy the effects of dopamine to purposely act as its replacement. 2. Drugs affecting neurotransmitters in the patient’s body for the purpose of mitigating the effects of Parkinson’s Disease Prime examples of such are anticholinergic drugs that stagnate the generation of acetylcholine, a type of neurotransmitter. Drugs of this category can significantly help in reducing the occurrence of tremors for patients. 3. Drugs that aim to affect the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease This refers to patients who express symptoms of depression, for example, and require medicines that classify as antidepressants. Symptoms may drastically ameliorate within the first assessment after administering medication. But effects and symptoms may resurface over time, as the development of Parkinson escalates, with symptoms worsening and medicines possessing less effects as resistance develops. This puts pressure on Parkinson’s Disease cure research to find a permanent solution to this disease. At any rate, medications designed to stem the effects and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease consist of: Levodopa/Carbidopa Regarded as the most prevalent and successful medication for Parkinson Disease, which is sometimes referred to as L-Dopa. The drug works in such a way that the body’s cells use the drug to generate dopamine and replenish the brain’s lacking supply of cells. It is worth noting that patients are not able to utilize dopamine medications due to the fact that dopamine does not readily move through the barrier between the patient’s blood and brain. In most cases, patients are prescribed levodopa in combination with another medication known as carbidopa. Levodopa and/or carbidopa are known to have a high success rate at reducing or eliminating the symptoms associated with motor symptoms of Parkinson Disease during its early stages. Levodopa usually assists patients by mitigating the effects of Parkinson pertaining to movement.  Dopamine agonists These drugs aim to replace or mimic the role of  the substance dopamine in the patient’s  brain and can be given alone or in combination with levodopa. They are regarded as a lackluster treatment in comparison to levodopa  in terms of treating Parkinson symptoms, but are also known to work on patients for a longer duration. Most of the potential side effects of dopamine agonists are similar to what is experienced by patients who use levodopa. Such symptoms include: Onset of sleep that is sudden or spontaneous in nature Symptoms relating to drowsiness Occurrence of hallucination, and confusion, vomiting Onset of nightmares In rare cases, said agents may create an uncontrollable desire for patients to do specific actions.  The same are also responsible for creating tense feelings in patients that may relate  to hypersexuality, gambling, or compulsive shopping. All of which are examples of impulsive behavior. Dopamine agonist drugs consist of  pramipexole, apomorphine, rotigotine, and ropinirole. MAO-B inhibitors Drugs identified as such aim to block or inhibit monoamine oxidase B, a specific type of enzyme otherwise known as MAO-B, which serves to break down existing dopamine in the patient’s brain. MAO-B inhibitors are also known to be responsible for the accumulation of dopamine in nerve cells, thus mitigating the severity of PD’s symptoms. Examples of drugs that are regarded as MAO-B inhibitors are rasagiline and selegiline. Amantadine This drug is antiviral in nature and serves to help reduce Parkinson Disease symptoms and levodopa-induced dyskinesia. It may be prescribed to the patient without any accompanied drugs in the first stages of Parkinson. The same may also be  used in combination with an anticholinergic drug, and even levodopa. Amantadine’s side effects mainly consist of edema, mottled skin, insomnia, the occurrence of hallucinations, and patient’s agitation. Surgery Surgical treatment is reserved for patients who do not respond well to medications, and is identified as DBS, or Deep Brain Stimulation. It is a surgical procedure that implants electrodes into the patient’s brain, that is then connected to a device attached to the patient’s chest, creating a stimulation in the brain that is painless for the patient and which rebukes many of the problems Parkinson brings in relation to the movement of the patient. Therapy Therapy includes but is not limited to occupational, physical and speech therapy. These are known to assist patients with tremors, rigidity, gait disorders, voice disorders. These also give other benefits to patients depending on their current situation. Therapy is a viable option as it may be customized and designed to suit the patient’s needs. Interestingly enough, research on Parkinson Disease has gained traction and recent advances have helped in improving symptomatic therapy for motor and non-motor symptoms of patients, though research on a definitive cure is still ongoing and some efforts are being turned into collectives. For example, The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, otherwise known as NINDS, has formed collectives to seek fundamental knowledge of the brain and use available information to conduct research on ideas that may direct them towards a cure, or at least to create an effort to help reduce the severity of symptoms on patients. In 2014, the same institution organized the Parkinson’s Disease 2014: Advancing Research, Improving Lives Conference, which gave birth to a collaboration of researchers, clinicians, patients and benefactors to create a total of 31 recommendations for Parkinson Disease research. Another example of a research breakthrough is the discovery of a Genetic “switch,” and the possibility of it preventing the symptoms of Parkinson Disease altogether. The research was conducted by the Medical Research Council at the University of Leicester in 2017. The study focused on the gene ATF4 and its key role in Parkinson Disease.  Key Takeaways What steps have been made in Parkinson's Disease cure research? Researchers all over the world are still working on developing a cure. However, a multitude of breakthroughs has been developed. These mitigate and, in some cases, prevent the progression of Parkinson Disease symptoms altogether. And that is no small feat. While a number of Old Adults are at risk, any of the aforementioned treatment methods may prove effective in mitigating the development of their symptoms. Learn more about Parkinson's Disease here. 

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