Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that is diagnosed in an estimated 60,000 Americans each year. It occurs when nerve cells, or neurons, in certain parts of the brain die or become impaired and can no longer produce dopamine, the chemical that enables the body to coordinate muscles and movement. Symptoms begin to appear when approximately 80 percent of the cells that produce dopamine are damaged.

More than 1 million people with the disease typically show signs of tremors in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face, as well slowness of movement, stiffness and problems with balance. Both men and women can be affected by Parkinson’s disease, which also crosses all social, ethnic, economic and geographic boundaries.

Although a small number of patients may be diagnosed under the age of 50, most cases of Parkinson’s disease are identified in people over 65. Blood tests and X-rays cannot be used to diagnose the disease. Rather, blood tests and brain scans, such as magnetic resonance imaging, may be done to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. The diagnosis may then be confirmed after a thorough examination. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but symptoms can be managed through medications, surgery or a combination of both.

One of the more commonly prescribed medications for Parkinson’s disease is levodopa. This medicine can reduce symptoms of slowness, stiffness and tremor. Levodopa works in the brain where it is converted into dopamine. It is always taken in conjunction with an enzyme inhibitor called carbidopa because blood enzymes would break down most of the levodopa before it could reach the brain.

Substitutes for levodopa, called dopamine agonists, have been developed that do not have to be taken with an enzyme inhibitor. However, these medications tend to cause other side effects.  Medications that do not stimulate dopamine production also can be taken to manage symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Medications should be managed under close physician supervision because each person reacts differently to different drugs.

Deep brain stimulation offers a surgical alternative to medications to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This procedure involves surgically implanting a battery-operated medical device called a neurostimulator. Similar to a heart pacemaker, it delivers electrical stimulation to specific areas of the brain that control movement and blocks abnormal nerve signals that cause symptoms. The neurostimulator is about the size of stopwatch and usually is implanted under the skin near the collarbone. It is attached by an extension wire passed under the skin of the shoulder, neck and head to an electrode, or lead, which is implanted into the brain through a small opening in the skull. 

The deep brain stimulation system provides continuous symptom control and can be adjusted as needed. It does not damage healthy brain tissue and can be reversed if necessary. Medications may still be required, but at reduced levels for most patients.

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Does Walking Help Lower Dementia Risk?

There is currently no cure for dementia, but there is mounting evidence that walking not only boosts your overall health but can also reduce your risk of dementia by half, according to a new study.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term that covers a broader range of conditions associated with loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that worsen over time and impair a person's daily life and independent function. It also affects behavior, feelings and relationships.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60% to 80% of cases. Dementia and Alzheimer's disease (often referred to as "senility" or "senile dementia") are not a normal part of aging. Normal brain aging may mean having slower processing speeds and more trouble multitasking, but routine memory, skills and knowledge are stable and may even improve with age. That is why it helps to learn about modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. Modifiable risk factors are lifestyle and behaviors that can reduce or increase a person's chances of developing a disease. 

How Walking Lowers Risk of Dementia

A healthy body has always been associated with having an active lifestyle, but a new study suggests that physical activity, such as brisk walking or power walking, is not just good for the body but for the brain too.

According to a study published in JAMA Neurology, older adults between the ages of 40 and 79 who took 9,826 steps per day (about five miles) were 50% less likely to develop dementia within seven years. Meanwhile, people who walked about 3,800 steps (about two miles) per day still had a 25% reduced risk of mental decline. It shows that the higher the number of steps per day, the better it is for your brain health.

Physical activity impacts the brain in many ways, including better sleep and reduced inflammation and feelings of anxiety, which may play a role in the development of dementia over time. It also improves the brain structure responsible for thinking, language and memory.

Faster pace means more brain benefits

Additionally, people who walk with purpose or focus on their walking pace rather than the distance walked or the number of steps per day could lower their risk of dementia by 57% with just 6,315 steps daily. Purposeful steps refer to walking at over 40 steps a minute.

Wearable fitness trackers or mobile health apps can help you track your steps and physical activity. But if you do not have a step counter, you can count the number of steps you take in 10 seconds and multiply it by six—or the number of steps you take in six seconds and multiply it by 10.


Older adults should move as much as they can throughout the day and aim for at least 150 minutes a week of combined moderate-intensity physical activity and strength training, according to the AARP's Global Council on Brain Health. People with certain heart or respiratory conditions should check with their doctor before starting an exercise program.


Alzheimer's Association
American Association of Retired Persons
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
JAMA Network
Medical News Today