April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month.  According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF), approximately 1 million Americans have this progressive, incurable disease.  Parkinson’s is defined by the PDF as a “movement disorder which involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain, called neurons.  Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As PD progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally.”  Parkinson’s is usually diagnosed after the age of 50, and affects men slightly more often than women.  Symptoms vary from person to person, but the motor signs of PD include tremors of the jaw, face, arms, legs and hands, slowness of movement, stiffness in the limbs and trunk, and impaired balance.  Other symptoms PD patients may experience include pain, dementia, fatigue, sleep disturbances, depression, constipation, cognitive changes, fear or anxiety, and urinary problems.  Currently Parkinson’s is incurable, but medication and surgery are treatment options to manage PD symptoms.  This disease is not considered a fatal disease, but its symptoms worsen over time leaving a person more and more debilitated.

The cause of Parkinson’s in unknown, but researchers are making advancements in attempts to understand this neurological disorder.  President Obama unveiled the BRAIN Initiative earlier this month which aims to help researchers find ways to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders.  The BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) will provide the means to develop new technologies to promote understanding regarding the correlation between brain activity and human behavior and learning, and the functioning of brain disease.

*Information for this article was provided by PDF.org and whitehouse.gov