Every year on April 11th, the world comes together to observe World Parkinson’s Disease Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about Parkinson’s disease (PD) and advocating for better care, support, and research initiatives.

The theme for World Parkinson’s Day 2024 has yet to be announced, but one thing is certain: it will focus on promoting research for new treatments and cures for Parkinson’s disease. In recent years, there have been significant advances in the understanding and treatment of Parkinson’s disease, thanks to the dedication of researchers, healthcare professionals, and advocates worldwide.

One of the key goals of World Parkinson’s Day is to highlight the importance of research in finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Research efforts have led to the development of new treatments that have improved the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease. These treatments, along with ongoing research, offer hope for a future without Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that can cause uncontrollable movements like shaking or trembling, stiffness, slow or interrupted movements, and problems with coordination and balance.

It can also lead to a wide range of non-motor symptoms, including cognitive impairment, mood disorders, sleep disturbances, and autonomic dysfunction. These symptoms can significantly impact the quality of life of both patients and their caregivers.

It occurs when your nerve cells, or neurons, in the area of your brain that controls movement, begin to weaken or die. They then cannot produce dopamine, which contributes to your ability to feel pleasure and move. If left untreated, it can lead to the death of patients with the disease.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the prevalence of PD has doubled in the past 25 years. Global estimates in 2019 showed over 8.5 million individuals with PD. Current estimates suggest that, in 2019, PD resulted in 5.8 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), an increase of 81% since 2000, and caused 329,000 deaths, an increase of over 100% since 2000.

WHO also classifies PD as a clinical diagnosis that not only can be made by neurologists but also by trained non-specialist healthcare workers.

According to health experts, Parkinson’s disease has no primary or definite factor, however, ongoing research efforts are focused on identifying biomarkers for early detection, exploring disease-modifying therapies, and unraveling the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to Parkinson’s.

Some of the already identified factors that pose a high risk of having the neurological disorder include genetics, environment, lifestyle, drugs and age.

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Age doesn’t directly cause Parkinson’s disease; however, older people stand the greatest risk of having Parkinson’s disease. Medical experts and scientists noted that as one grows older, the brain cell shrinks and becomes more prone to injury as well as the changes in the way the gene operates which can trigger Parkinson’s disease.

Also, genetics can be a factor leading to Parkinson’s disease. People with a family history of Parkinson’s disease tend to have a reoccurrence of the disease. Hence, people with such a history are encouraged to engage in regular checkups.

Similarly, exposure to environmental toxins like heavy metals, pesticides, psycho-stimulants like cocaine, etc, can put you at risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a possible risk factor for developing Parkinson’s disease. Serious injury to the head can increase the risk of having Parkinson’s disease.

In addition, certain medications could cause Parkinson’s disease symptoms. This is called drug-induced Parkinsonism and usually goes away when you stop taking the medication. While it may not seem to be Parkinson’s disease, it is more like it.

Drugs also contribute to the chances of having Parkinson’s disease, most especially hard drugs.

Accordingly, the National Library of Medicine noted that studies have shown that drugs that trigger the death of dopaminergic neurons in substantia nigra can become a potential mechanism to develop Parkinson’s Disease (PD).

However, since it is incurable, it is possible to reduce the risk factors which include exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet, living a healthy lifestyle as well as avoiding exposure to environmental factors. Therapies including medicines, surgery, and rehabilitation can reduce symptoms.

Neurologists advise getting genetic testing to determine family history so that early diagnosis is obtained and treatment can commence immediately.