parkinson's disease
parkinson's disease

Understanding How Parkinson's Disease Impacts The Body

Posted on December 14, 2022 by Henry Ford Health Staff
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Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder that impacts your brain and can cause uncontrolled movements of the body, trouble with speech, anxiety and depression, and memory issues. This disease impacts neurons in the brain that are responsible for making dopamine, the body’s natural feel-good hormone. With less dopamine, not only does your body experience an emotional change, but a physical one as well.

How Is Parkinson’s Diagnosed?

According to Ellen Air, M.D., a neurosurgeon for Henry Ford Health, Parkinson’s can be very difficult to diagnose – primarily because many of the signs and symptoms are often part of normal aging, or the signs of other neuro-progressive disorders such as dementia.

“There is no single best test for Parkinson’s disease,” says Dr. Air. “We look at a patient’s age, environment and genetics to identify areas for possible risk factors. From there, we can evaluate symptoms they might be experiencing and conduct neurological exams to fine-tune a proper diagnosis.”

There are many physical and neurological indicators that your healthcare provider will look for when diagnosing Parkinson’s disease. This can include:

  • Tremors. An uncontrolled shaking, either when resting or in motion. While tremors typically are seen in the hands, people may also experience in the legs and face as well. These tremors can be slight or more noticeable.
  • Stiffness or slowness. Parkinson’s can impact your ability to move around – even causing a patient to have moments of either freezing up or hurrying while walking. Stiff joints or slowed movements can have direct impact on one’s ability to get around or perform day-to-day tasks.
  • Posture and balance changes. Parkinson’s might cause a difficulty in standing up straight or coordinating movements. Combined with stiff joints, this can impact walking and moving around.
  • Dementia or memory difficulties. Research shows that one third of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s will likely develop dementia or mild cognitive impairment related to the progressive nature of this disease.
  • Speech problems. Parkinson’s can impact how you talk, including causing slurred speech, hesitant speech or difficulty forming sentences, talking in a low voice, and trouble swallowing while speaking.
  • Trouble sleeping. Insomnia, trouble falling asleep, REM sleep disorder and restless legs syndrome are all common with Parkinson’s. These conditions that can impact your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Loss of taste or smell. Changes in how you smell or taste could be an early sign of a change in your brain’s supply of dopamine.

Managing Life With Parkinson’s Disease

“This is no cure for Parkinson’s disease,” says Dr. Air. “However, your doctor can work with you to try medications and therapies to improve your quality of life combined with modifications you can make to live a healthier life.”

The most common medication prescribed for Parkinson’s is levodopa, a medication that can increase the available levels of dopamine in your brain. Other medications can be prescribed to help manage associated symptoms of Parkinson’s such as anxiety and depression, sleep problems, and dementia.

As an alternative to medication, deep brain stimulation is an FDA-approved surgical option that involves implanting a device in the brain to painlessly stimulate parts of the brain associated with your mobility. This surgery can improve slowed movements, muscle stiffness and tremors.

Outside of medical interventions, many Parkinson’s patients have found improvement in their speech and coordination through other therapies such as dancing and singing. Making healthy food choices and exercising regularly can also help to show improvement.


To request an appointment with the Henry Ford Parkinson’s Disease and Movements Disorder Center, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Ellen Air is a neurosurgeon who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Categories : FeelWell
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