The number of people living with Parkinson’s disease is increasing at an alarming rate. Experts predict a global total of 17.5 million patients by 2040. In fact, among all neurological disorders, the fastest growing one is Parkinson’s disease, whose growth is surpassing that of Alzheimer’s disease.
A diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is life changing. While the experience of living with Parkinson’s differs among patients, many of the challenges are shared by the majority of people living with the condition.
Parkinson’s disease primarily affects movement and causes symptoms like tremors, stiffness and impaired balance and coordination. Patients require long-term treatment to control symptoms and may eventually have to adapt the way they perform simple everyday tasks.
As the disease progresses, the motoric manifestations typically worsen, frequently leading to difficulty in walking and speaking, as well as emotional and cognitive changes, sleep disturbances, depression, memory issues and fatigue.
Parkinson’s disease is caused by the degeneration of dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain, the substantia nigra. The exact cause of this neurodegeneration is not fully understood, but a combination of genetic and environmental factors is thought to play a role.
Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that controls motion, mood, and motivation. The loss of dopamine homeostasis is the main cause of the symptoms seen in Parkinson’s disease.
Despite the vast amount of research on Parkinson’s disease, there has been no major breakthrough in the way Parkinson’s disease is treated since the introduction of Levodopa in the 1960s. Levodopa, which is taken orally, is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels through the circulation to the brain, where it is converted into dopamine.
While Levodopa can greatly improve the quality of life of patients with Parkinson’s disease initially, the effectiveness of the drug eventually wanes. After what is known as the “honeymoon” period, patients usually develop involuntary muscle movements, a condition known as dyskinesia. This phenomenon is a result of daily fluctuations in Levodopa concentrations. As the disease progresses, treatment often requires the use of devices that continuously deliver Levodopa. These devices have a significant toll on patients’ quality of life and are associated with various complications.