Can we cope with the rising tide of Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s disease is on the rise. The number of sufferers could reach 162,000 by the end of the decade and campaigners fear that already stretched services will be unable to cope with the soaring numbers.

I have to agree, and it pays to be well informed about the condition should you or an elderly relative develop it.

How is Parkinson’s disease different from dementia

It is a disease of the brain that affects the muscles of the body, whereas dementia affects mental function. Parkinson’s causes a classic trio of stiffness, shaking and a slowness of movement that worsens over time. We know this is due to a change in a specific part of the brain that controls the normal, smooth control of muscles.

Most sufferers develop Parkinson's over the age of 60 although one in 20 is under the age of 40

Most sufferers develop Parkinson's over the age of 60 although one in 20 is under the age of 40 (Picture posed by model)

Is Parkinson’s inherited

We don’t think so. Most sufferers develop it over the age of 60, although one in 20 is under 40 and this type of young-onset disease does seem to have a genetic element.

I think my father has Parkinson’s. How do we get a diagnosis

Start with your GP. Parkinson’s is a clinical diagnosis based on symptoms that your doctor can evaluate. In the early stages, it can be hard to diagnose. The classic symptoms may be accompanied by subtle shifts such as changes in speech, face, smaller handwriting, difficulty in dressing and monotonous speech.

What help is available for people with the disease

Huge amounts of research are undertaken into drug treatment of Parkinson’s, which is far from optimal now, and trials are under way to develop the best regime with the least negative impact. Drug treatment aims to replace a brain chemical called dopamine which is lacking in the brain of sufferers.

Aside from drugs, what other treatment is needed

Parkinson’s is a devastating disease which in the later stages halts a person’s ability to function. Patients with significant symptoms must be managed by a team including a physiotherapist to help with exercise and an occupational therapist to advise on home adaptations.