Parkinson’s Disease is traditionally thought of as a disease of old age. However many people younger than this are living with Parkinson's too!
The average age of diagnosis for Parkinson’s is the early 60's. Nonetheless, growing numbers of people are being diagnosed with the condition under the age of 40. This number makes up approximately 10% of the total population of persons with Parkinson’s.
The impact of the diagnosis of Parkinson’s is difficult for anyone- but it is especially devastating when patients are in the early adult life. The diagnosis may have come at a time when they are in the midst of developing their career, establishing their family and preparing to secure their future. The diagnosis therefore forces one to redefine their goals and resources, creating much unrest; physical, financial, emotional and psychological.
Although it may not always be easy, developing as positive an attitude as possible towards their Parkinson’s can make an enormous difference to how they live their lives!!
What is Early-Onset Parkinson’s?
When Parkinson's disease is seen in individuals under the age of 40 it is called "young-onset" or "early-onset" Parkinson's disease.
The symptoms seen in early onset Parkinson’s are similar to those of older onset Parkinson’s. Additionally, as is the case of older-onset Parkinson's disease, the speed of the progression, the symptoms experienced and severity of young-onset Parkinson's disease can vary greatly among individuals.
Although the neuropathology and most clinical symptoms are the same at whatever age Parkinson's disease develops, the psychological, social, and medical management implications are very different for people with young-onset Parkinson's.
Younger people with Parkinson's can face particular challenges, such as
- Ensuring that there is support for the whole family, including children and teenagers.
- Getting help and information about work
- Concerns about money
Additionally, the incidence of depression is very common in young-onset Parkinson's disease. It has been noted that the way Parkinson's affects the life of a younger person is certainly different than that in older persons, perhaps creating greater stress related to work and the welfare of their children. Thus, Psychological counseling can also be a helpful outlet for them.
Another concern associated with an early-onset diagnosis is the presence of cognitive symptoms associated with Parkinson's. People can develop problems with executive function, decision-making and judgment. Multitasking may become difficult as well. Thus, creating difficulties in executing ones job responsibilities.
While in Parkinson's disease, in general, there is probably a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In early-onset Parkinson's disease, it's thought that the genetic factors are more common. Often there is a family history of the disease, and about 50 percent of patients have a mutation in the gene called parkin.
In rare instances, Parkinson's-like symptoms can appear in those under the age of 20 years. This form of the disorder, called "juvenile Parkinsonism," is viewed as a distinct disorder, which often is genetically determined. Juvenile Parkinsonism usually has a different course from typical later-life Parkinson' disease.
Treatment of Early-Onset Parkinson’s
Although Parkinson's is similar in both older and younger patients, treating early-onset Parkinson's disease often includes additional concerns related to the patients desire to remain active, work and prevent the disease from taking over their busy lives.
In the course of treating early-onset Parkinson’s, doctors attempt to delay the use of Levodopa as much as possible and use other drugs such as Dopamine Agonists (such as, pramipexole and ropinirole), as these medications are associated with a lower incidence of motor complications. Drugs that have some neuro-protective value (not proven as yet) such as the MAO-B inhibitors (Rasagiline) and Coenzyme Q10 maybe used as well.
Most importantly, Exercise is the most effective neuroprotective treatment. According to experts, neurons are produced throughout the lifespan and exercise is one of the things that seem to stimulate their growth. Exercise not only helps ones motor symptoms but also has a beneficial effect on cognitive functions such as concentration, attention, organization etc.
Occupational therapy has also been seen to be helpful for person’s with Early onset Parkinson’s, specially in relation to work/job related tasks. It can be helpful in terms of organizing ones work schedule. While Physio therapy too is very helpful for flexibility, range of motion, gait and balance.
Our action for Early-Onset Parkinson’s
For someone who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s early in their life, coming to terms with the diagnosis and coping with the condition is rather hard. However, never is the need to talk to someone, to find support, and to find your own strength more emphasized than at a time like that.
Who you talk to may depend on your personal circumstances, the difficulties you have and who you feel most comfortable with. You may find it helpful to talk to other people with Parkinson’s.
Keeping this in mind PDMDS has a special interest support group specifically for people diagnosed with PD before the age of 60. To get more information about the group click here. Additionally, you can also interact with other such individuals on the web through our online forum. To join the forum click here.