There are seven common misconceptions that the general public often believes in relation to Parkinsons disease. Dispelling these myths will go a long way in creating awareness about this incurable, neurological disorder and allow those with it to feel more comfortable in society, and prevent misdiagnosis.
The first common misconception is that only elderly people get Parkinsons disease. This is not so. Although this disease does tend to strike those in their fifties or early sixties (late middle age) more often, it does occur in younger people as well. More cases of early-onset Parkinsons disease have been found in people under the age of 40, an average of 5-10 percent in recent years. Younger patients dont tend to suffer from balance or walking issues as much or have their thinking processes impaired like older patients do but they often experience vibrations and more involuntary movements.
The second misconception is that all Parkinsons patients suffer tremors. Tremors are the most common symptoms of Parkinsons disease and are found in approximately 70 percent of sufferers although 15-25 percent do not experience any form of tremors at all.
Grumpy Old Men
The public often unfairly perceives Parkinsons patients as being stupid, rude or miserable. The reasons cited is that as the disease progresses, sufferers develop more and more problems in their ability to communicate with others. Problems with speech, swallowing, drooling, and jerky facial and body movements cause patients to be unfairly labeled. Some people unaware of a persons condition wrongly believe that person to be inebriated when they talk with slurred speech.
The fourth common misconception is that Parkinsons disease can be prevented. Researchers have not identified the exact cause of the disease and therefore without this information, preventing it is impossible. Most however, do believe that Parkinsons disease is caused by a combination of a genetic predisposition and environmental factors.
The fifth misconception is that lifestyle modifications can do nothing in improving symptoms of the disease. This is not the case. Regular exercise, in particular muscle strengthening exercises and walking, as well as dietary changes cannot slow the progression of the disease but can cut down on the severity of symptoms.
The sixth common misconception is that people with Parkinsons disease cannot live independent and productive lives. This is not so. The progression of the disease is not the same for everyone. Some individuals suffer milder forms of Parkinsons than do others and not everyone experiences all of the same symptoms or the same severity of symptoms. With medication, regular exercise and dietary considerations most Parkinsons sufferers can live on their own and be as productive in their daily lives as anyone else. Many do not need to quit their jobs although some do as their condition deteriorates.
The seventh common misconception is that Parkinsons disease will cause death. Parkinsons has not been proven to be fatal although patients with it do have special health concerns. The disease may wreak havoc with the respiratory system, which could lead to pneumonia.
A form of pneumonia known as aspiration pneumonia is of particular concern as many sufferers develop problems with swallowing which can cause aspiration of food. As well a lack of movement can cause a person to be more prone to developing a variety of infections. Many Parkinsons patients dont develop any of the above problems and manage to live anywhere from 20-30 years with the disease.
Image: an operation in Hiroshima General Hospital during the Russo-Japanese War, 1904. Photograph by Herbert Ponting./ Creative Commons License