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6 Things You May Not Know About Parkinson's Disease

Learn More About One of the Most Common Neurological Conditions

As many as 1 million people in the U.S. live with Parkinson's disease, making it the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in the United States. By 2030, 1.2 million people in the U.S. are expected to be living with the disease. Despite its prominence, there is still much to learn about Parkinson's disease on many levels, says Tatyana Simuni, MD, director of the Northwestern Medicine Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center. Today, scientists pave the way forward with new strategies for managing side effects and better insight into slowing the progression of the disease.

Here are six things you may not know about Parkinson's disease.

1. About 90,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease every year.

Diagnosing Parkinson's disease can be tricky — the cause of the disease is still unknown, although scientists generally believe that it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There is no single test to confirm the disease, and diagnosis often relies on a specialist's understanding of clinical information, personal medical history and a neurological exam.

2. A clear risk factor is age.

Most people with Parkinson's disease first develop it after they turn 60. However, up to 1 in 10 people with Parkinson's experience onset before the age of 50.

3. Loss of smell can be an early sign of Parkinson's disease.

Other early, often subtle, signs of Parkinson's disease can include developing smaller, more crowded handwriting, and a softer or lower voice.

4. Parkinson's disease also has non-motor symptoms.

Tremors are a well-known symptom of Parkinson's disease. However, while this and other motor-related symptoms are often experienced, the disease can also have non-motor symptoms. These include trouble sleeping, constipation, bladder problems, mood disorders, depression, anxiety and cognitive concerns like memory loss or slowed thinking.

5. Exercise is vital for managing Parkinson's disease.

Exercise and physical activity have been shown to help maintain and improve mobility, flexibility and balance in people with Parkinson's disease. According to research conducted by Daniel M. Corcos, PhD, a professor of Physical Therapy & Human Movement Sciences at Northwestern University in the Feinberg School of Medicine and a professor in the McCormick School of Engineering, an exercise program should be prescribed at diagnosis and should continue throughout life, with adjustments made as the disease progresses. Exercise and physical activity can also help ease other symptoms, such as depression and constipation. Workouts that focus on aerobic activity, resistance training, flexibility and stretching, as well as tai chi, Pilates, boxing and dance, are often the most appropriate.

6. Self-care is as important as ever.

Many people with Parkinson's disease describe worsening symptoms when stressed and associate the onset of certain symptoms, such as tremors, with stressful events. This makes self-care and healthy emotional health habits especially important for those dealing with the disease at any stage.

No matter when you are diagnosed, know there are options to help you manage your life with Parkinson's disease. With your care team, you can manage your symptoms, maximize your independence and maintain or improve your quality of life.

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