Henry Ford has been involved in research studies for more than 20 years to uncover the causes of Parkinson's disease and to find new and more effective treatments. Learn more about movement disorders research at Henry Ford.
What is Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson's disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder, meaning that symptoms continue and worsen over time. Nearly one million people in the United States are living with Parkinson's disease. The disease causes the gradual loss of brain cells in a small part of the brain called the substantia nigra. When neurons in this part of the brain begin to die, the cells can no longer manufacture dopamine, a chemical that helps control muscle movement.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
With depletion of dopamine and damage to other neurons, the symptoms of Parkinson's disease develop. They include:
- Stiffness and resistance to movement in parts of the body (rigidity)
- Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
Other, subtler symptoms of Parkinson's may include:
- Small, cramped hand-writing
- Decreased arm-swing of scuffing of the foot on the affected side when walking
- Decreased facial expression
- Lowered voice volume
- Depression or anxiety
- Episodes of feeling “stuck in place” when initiating a step
- Vivid or active dreaming
- Loss of smell
Because Parkinson's is a progressive disorder, these symptoms worsen with time. However, this disease will not necessarily shorten a person’s life.
Who does Parkinson's disease affect?
Approximately one million people in the United States have Parkinson’s. Although the illness most often affects older individuals, particularly those over the age of 55, Parkinson’s may also affect younger adults. Parkinson’s appears to be slightly more common in men than in women.
Expert diagnosis of Parkinson’s at Henry Ford
Parkinson’s disease can be difficult to diagnose, particularly in its early stages. Our movement disorder experts will:
- Carefully review your health history
- Examine your expression
- Watch your gait (how you walk) and whether your arms swing symmetrically
- Observe your arms for tremor
- Test your balance
- Possibly perform a blood test and brain scan (MRI) to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms
Parkinson's treatment and research at Henry Ford
Our doctors are committed to helping you restore lost motor functions. When you come to Henry Ford, you’ll have the opportunity to work with board-certified movement specialists and even participate in movement disorders research and clinical trials. Our doctors and researchers are involved in research for new and advanced treatments that will slow or postpone the onset of illness.
Treatments you and your care team may explore include:
- Medication: Many of the movement symptoms associated with Parkinson’s are caused by lack of dopamine, a chemical produced by the brain. Current medicines work as a dopamine replacement and can improve tremor, rigidity and slowness associated with the disease. Ongoing research is exploring new medicines that may be effective in treating symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease.
- Deep Brain Stimulation: Deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy can be an excellent option for patients who no longer have relief of their symptoms with medication. While it is not a cure for Parkinson’s, it can dramatically relieve some symptoms and improve your quality of life. Learn more about deep brain stimulation.