What is it?
Parkinson’s Disease, and the family of Parkinsonian disorders that include Levy Body Dementia, are a group of neurological conditions affecting a portion of your brain known as the Basal Ganglia. One of the most important functions of this area of the brain is to regulate the magnitude of muscle use unconsciously. Essentially, when this area of the brain is not processing stimulus correctly either from not producing or receiving a chemical called dopamine correctly, the brain outputs less strong messages to the areas of the body it is directing to move. This can result in smaller steps seen in the more typical shuffling gait pattern, difficulty catching yourself when you fall as the brain cannot create a big enough movement to compensate automatically, smaller handwriting, and quieter voice. You may also see difficulty turning quickly, or even crossing a doorway as this area of the brain cannot produce or process these messages normally.
This family of disorders often has a twofold approach. While medical management of dopamine with medications or implants can help, often the plasticity of the brain will give these treatments a distinct lifespan of use prior to the brain adapting against them. To prolong independence, treatment like physical therapy or speech therapy targeted to helping the brain consciously attend to the functions being affected can allow for improved movements as conscious processes are controlled by an entirely different area of the brain! The neurological re education often involves emphasizing powerful movement strategies, and may include boxing, dance, or specific movement training to help patients get used to their movement style!
Important Facts to Know
This family of disorders is most often associated with tremors, however because of the movement dynamic involvement, fall risk is one of the largest factors we seek to address. Early intervention can help improve safety, and therapy is currently being considered a frontline defense, and when possible many cases this will be encouraged prior to starting medication so that we can maximize independence over the lifespan!