Parkinson’s disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. Nerve cells in this part of the brain are responsible for producing a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine acts as a messenger between the parts of the brain and nervous system that help control and co-ordinate body movements. One study has revealed a certain disorder in the brain is linked to the area where the dopamine-producing nerve cells are found, suggesting the disorder is an early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease.
The study, published in the neurological journal The Lancet Neurology, found that patients suffering from a sleep disorder known as rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder (RBD) have a risk of developing Parkinson’s disease or dementia in the future, because they already suffer from a lack of dopamine in the brain.
Parkinson’s disease occurs precisely because the group of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine stop working.
According to the Mayo Clinic: “Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behaviour disorder is a sleep disorder in which you physically act out vivid, often unpleasant dreams with vocal sounds and sudden, often violent arm and leg movements during REM sleep — sometimes called dream-enacting behaviour.”
“These patients have an inflammation of the brain in the area where the dopamine-producing nerve cells are found,” says one of the researchers behind the study, Morten Gersel Stokholm from Aarhus University and the PET Centre at Aarhus University Hospital.
This is completely new knowledge, as researchers have not previously demonstrated that there is a form of inflammation of the brain in patients who are at risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
“With this study, we have gained new knowledge about the disease processes in the brain in the early initial stages of the disease development.
“The idea is for this knowledge to be used to determine which patients with the sleep disorder will later develop Parkinson’s disease.
“At the same time, this is also knowledge that can help to develop drugs which can stop or slow the development of the diseases,” explained Morten Gersel Stokholm about the sleep disorder which most often affects persons aged 50-70, and more frequently men than women.
According to Michael J fox Foundation, age is the greatest risk factor for Parkinson’s disease: “Scientists believe our cells may be more susceptible to damage as they age.
“In addition, over time the expression of our genes may change, which could set off a chain of cellular events that leads to Parkinson’s disease.”
Environmental factors have also been associated with an increased risk of developing the disease. These include head injury and exposure to pesticides, said the health body.
Although there’s currently no cure cure or Parkinson’s disease, treatments are available to help reduce the main symptoms and maintain quality of life for as long as possible, said the NHS.
- Supportive treatments, such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy
- In some cases, brain surgery
Exercise can also help to slow down symptoms. According to Parkinson’s UK, doing 2.5 hours of exercise a week can slow the progression of your symptoms.
Exercise can also help people living with Parkinson’s disease manage physical symptoms and other symptoms such as sleep problems, fatigue, mood and mental health.
“Exercise can be as important as your medication to help you take control and manage your symptoms,” added the charity.