Many people associate the
tremors and shuffling gate of Parkinson's disease with old age.
While this disease of degenerating muscular control is more common
in the elderly, it can strike people of any age. Doctors have associated
it with repeated injuries (like those a prize fighter might endure)
or brain infections. They also know that there is a genetic predisposition
to the disease. But most cases of Parkinson's disease remain a mystery
In Parkinson's, the brain
gradually loses control of the muscles. Cells in an area of the
brain called the substantia nigra die or become impaired; these
are the cells that produce a neurotransmitter named dopamine, which
coordinates the millions of nerve and muscle cells involved in movement.
The first symptoms are often subtle - a movement that becomes different
or a mumbling speech. The delicate coordination of opposite muscles
which enables a long, smooth stride is often lost. The hands may
tremor or the voice quaver. Without treatment, the disease is progressive
Some drugs, like L-dopa,
can slow the progress of Parkinson's disease. But it becomes less
effective over time. Deep brain stimulation with an implanted device
somewhat like a pacemaker has had positive results in some patients.
But the real cure will come when researchers can pinpoint why the
body gradually destroys its own most basic brain functions and can
stop the disease in its tracks.