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Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month

Photo of a man and woman with doctor

A VA doctor educates a Veteran and his wife about Parkinson’s Disease

Quality of care for Veteran’s includes raising awareness around important health topics. By highlighting some of the national health awareness campaigns each month, Veterans can get ideas, information, and resources on a variety of health matters.

April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, and we want to shed light on this serious neurological disease.  Parkinson’s disease is a deteriorating disorder of the nervous system usually categorized as a movement disorder.  It develops gradually when certain nerve cells in the brain die and it’s thought to be caused by a loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain.

The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but genes and environmental factors may play a role. Approximately 40,000 veterans with Parkinson’s disease receive care at the VA each year.

Some of the important risk factors that may contribute to Parkinson's are:

• Age. Parkinson's disease is rare in young people. Usually it’s developed later in life at around the age of 60 or older.
• Heredity. Having close family members with Parkinson's disease increases the chances that you'll develop the disease. Risks are still small unless you have several family members with the disease.
• Sex. Men have a greater chance at developing Parkinson's disease than women.
• Exposure to toxins. Ongoing exposure to herbicides and pesticides may put you at a slightly increased risk of Parkinson's disease.

Symptoms may include:

• Tremor.  One sign of Parkinson's disease is a tremor of your hand when it is at rest.
• Slowed movement. Over time, Parkinson's disease may reduce your ability to move and slow down your movement.  You may also drag your feet as you walk, making it difficult to move.
• Rigid or stiff muscles. Muscle stiffness may occur in parts of your body. Stiff muscles can reduce your range of motion and cause you pain.
• Impaired posture and balance. Your posture may be affected, or you may have balance problems.
• Loss of automatic movements.  You may have a reduced ability to perform movements such as blinking, smiling or swinging your arms when you walk.
• Speech changes. You may have speech problems such as - speaking too softly or too quickly, slurring your words or pausing before speaking.
• Writing changes. Your writing may appear small and become difficult.

VA established six specialized centers in 2001, to give Veterans with Parkinson’s disease excellent clinical care and education.  Parkinson's Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Centers or PADRECCs are located in Philadelphia, Richmond, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the Seattle/Portland area. Researchers at these sites and other VA sites are studying the biochemical pathways involving dopamine, and testing a variety of treatments, including medication, surgery, and electrical stimulation.

VA’s Accomplishments for Parkinson’s include:

• Conducting the first large scale trial of the results of deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery.
• Finding that low-intensity workouts, stretching, and resistance exercise improve the mobility of patients with Parkinson’s disease.
• Defining the role of the immune system in the development of Parkinson’s disease.
• Determining that a certain gene variant is more common in people with dementia who have Parkinson’s disease.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there is medication, physical therapy and surgery available to help alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.  If you or a loved one experiences any of the signs or symptoms mentioned please consult your doctor to make the proper diagnosis.

Below are resources that can help you and your family learn more about Parkinson's disease.

Resources  (click links below to open in new tab)

VA’s Parkinson’s Disease Website

The VA Parkinson Report  (PDF)

Learn about Parkinson's Disease and how VA can help – VHA Videos