Is There A Cure For Parkinson’s Disease?

Is There A Cure For Parkinson's Disease?

In Parkinson's disease, certain nerve cells in the brain gradually break down or die. When dopamine levels decrease, it causes abnormal brain activity, leading to symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

On Workday Afternoon, we speak to Dr N V Ramani, Specialist in Neurology and Consultant of Raffles Neuroscience Centre, to find out more about Parkinson’s disease and who is at risk of getting it.

Claressa Monteiro: Between the two genders, who is more at risk?

Dr Ramani: Studies have shown that Parkinson's is a degenerative condition so as one gets older, the risk increases. There was a study in Singapore a couple of years ago that showed that above the age of 50, three out of a 100 had Parkinson's disease and it was higher as the person was of an older age. So, age is a major risk factor, usually above 50 years old.

Secondly, men have a higher risk of contracting the disease than women. However, we don’t have concrete evidence to prove this.

CM: Some of those early symptoms listed online are problems sleeping or a loss of smell. These are symptoms of so many conditions. What should we be looking out for specifically?

DR: Yes, the symptoms you've mentioned are common to many other illnesses. [Having] problems sleeping could be due to stress or anger, loss of smell can occur because of flu. The main Parkinson’s symptoms are tremors at rest, difficulty in moving quickly and stiffness of the body. So if one has any of these symptoms, it could be Parkinson’s. I’ll advise those who have any of these symptoms not to self-diagnose but to pop by your neighbourhood clinic and have your doctor examine you for the signs of Parkinson’s.

CM: Is there a test?

DR: There is no specific blood test for this condition. Some research centres do provide special dopamine scans for the brain, but these are largely in the research arena. Right now, Parkinson’s is a clinical diagnosis based on the symptoms the patient tells the doctor and the signs they have such as tremors, stiffness and some may have an imbalance in walking, they tend to fall backwards. These features are common in one who has Parkinson's disease.

CM: Are there foods that we can avoid or lifestyle adjustments that we can make that will protect ourselves from the onset of Parkinson’s disease as we age?

DR: I wish there was a simple answer to this, [but] I’m afraid the answer is no. There is no specific food to take or not to take or lifestyle things to do or not to do.

Studies have shown that smokers have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. But I wouldn’t advise you to take up smoking to prevent the disease. That is the only thing that smoking may have a small benefit for, but it is greatly outweighed by the risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease or stroke. So please do not smoke to prevent Parkinson's because you might die from something else much more catastrophic and much more terrible.

CM: Singapore has an aging population. Does that mean that we will see a steady rise in Parkinson’s cases?

DR: Yes, I think so too because there are more people getting older and more will develop the symptoms. But fortunately, with the medications available, the symptoms may be reduced significantly, so it may not be obvious that someone has Parkinson’s.

CM: Is there a possibility that we could already have an early onset of Parkinson's disease without even realising it?

DR: Yes, maybe mild tremor or muscle stiffness. We may put it aside as [we think that we are] just getting older. But do note that the medication for Parkinson’s does not cure the illness, it only improves the symptoms. So we usually inform our patients that we can diagnose the illness clinically, but we will not stop therapy unless the illness is very disabling to the patient or the family because these medicines will help the dopamine to be replenished or to do the work that dopamine does. It does not cure the illness. And taking medication once or twice daily can be troublesome when they have other medications to take as well.

Listen to the full podcast to find out what is the life expectancy of someone diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

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For more, tune in to Workday Afternoon with Claressa Monteiro on weekdays from 1PM to 4PM.

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