For the Newbie: The ABCs of Parkinson's Disease

When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease I was shocked, depressed, and worried. My mind was racing like I was in the Indy 500! After the shock subsided, I realized that what I needed was a list of Parkinson’s disease terms that someone with Parkinson’s can understand in layman’s terms.

I started compiling a list of Parkinson’s terminology that helps me understand what medical professionals are telling me in clear, everyday speech. Below are some common terms you may hear as you talk to your healthcare team.1-4

A

Ataxia

A movement disorder that involves the loss of balance and decreased coordination when moving.

B

Bradykinesia

Loss of spontaneous movement and slow voluntary movement.

C

Cognitive dysfunction

Loss of ability to think, reason, and remember. It may also include changes in mood, behavior, and personality.

D

Dementia

Severe decrease in memory and intellectual functioning that can occur in the later stages of Parkinson's.

Depression

Feelings of severe sadness. Inability to initiate activity.

Dopamine

A neurotransmitter produced in the brain. This chemical helps control movement - specifically walking and balance. The main cause of Parkinson's is deficient dopamine levels.

Dysarthria

Slurred or impaired speech.

Dyskinesia

Involuntary, uncontrollable, and excessive movements. A common side effect of levodopa treatment.

Dysphagia

Difficulty swallowing liquids and/or solid food and drink.

Dystonia

Painful muscle cramping when in a sustained posture. It usually occurs when medication is wearing off.

E

Executive dysfunction

Inability to plan, initiate activities, and maintain behaviors to successfully execute a goal. Executive functions also include attention, problem solving, and multitasking.

F

Fatigue

Feeling overly tired, exhausted, and wiped out.

Festination

Quickening of steps and shuffling when walking.

Freezing

Inability to move or walk temporarily.

G

Gait dysfunction

Walking abnormally, such as shuffling, freezing, or losing balance.

H

Hypomimia

Also known as facial masking, a blank facial expression with decreased blinking.

I

Idiopathic Parkinson’s

The cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown.

L

Levodopa

The most common drug used to treat Parkinson's symptoms. It helps restore dopamine levels in the brain.

Lewy bodies

Abnormal grouping of protein in the brain found in dopamine-producing cells that are dead or dying.

M

Micrographia

Small, cramped handwriting.

Mild cognitive impairment

Decreased memory and intellectual functioning. Also known as MCI, this can progress into Dementia in some Parkinson's patients.

Motor fluctuations

Unpredictable response to levodopa wearing off that leads to changes in the ability to move.

Movement disorder

A condition that prevents movement.

Multiple System Atrophy

A degenerative condition that includes low blood pressure when standing. It can lead to rigidity, ataxia, or fainting, or incontinence.

N

Neurodegeneration

The progressively slow death of certain brain cells in people with Parkinson's.

Neurologist

A doctor who specializes in disorders of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and stroke.

Neuron

A nerve cell used to transmit information through the central nervous system. Parkinson's causes damage to the dopamine neurons.

Non-motor symptoms

Symptoms of Parkinson's that do not affect movement such as cognitive impairment, sleep disorders, and depression.

O

Olfactory dysfunction

Impaired ability to smell.

Off phenomenon

The inability of medicine to last until the next dosage. It can lead to a loss of activity and function.

P

Parkinsonism

A term that refers to slowness or mobility problems. It includes Parkinson's disease and several other conditions.

Physical therapy

Exercise and physical activities to help muscle strength, balance, and flexibility.

R

Rigidity

Stiffness in limbs or other body parts.

S

Sinemet

A brand name of carbidopa/levodopa used to treat PD. It is the most commonly prescribed type of this drug.

Speech disorders

Symptoms such as slurred words, decreased vocal, loudness, imprecise articulation, monotone voice, rate changes, and intelligibility cause difficulty understanding speech.

T

Tremor

An involuntary, uncontrollable, rhythmic movement of the hands, head, voice, legs, or other body parts.

W

Wearing-off period

When the medicine loses effectiveness between doses and Parkinson's symptoms return.

Y

Young-onset Parkinson's disease

A form of Parkinson's disease when symptoms appears before the age of 40.

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