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Parkinson's disease

About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is a very common disorder of the brain, which affects movement in many different areas of the body. The cause of Parkinson’s Disease is unknown, however genetic and environmental factors are believed to play a part in the disease. The onset of Parkinson’s Disease generally occurs after the age of 40, and is more prevalent in men than women.

One person in every 100 over the age of 60 will be affected by Parkinson’s Disease.

The disease is a result of degeneration of neurons, usually within the Substantia Nigra—an area of the brain—which means that the messages your brain tries to send get "shorted out".


parkinsonsYour doctor will talk to you about Parkinson’s Disease, observe your movements, and generally send you to have a variety of X-rays before you can be accurately diagnosed.

There are four main components of the disease:

  • resting tremor (uncontrollable muscle movements)
  • rigidity (muscle stiffness)
  • akinesia (difficulty moving, or not being able to move your body)
  • postural abnormalities.

These features may develop individually or at the same time; however as the disease progresses, they all generally develop. At least two features need to be present for a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. The severity of the disease is rated using a modified Hoehn and Yarh scale (zero equals no evidence of the disease and five equals confinement to a wheelchair or bed).


If you are suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • tremors—these usually involve your head, face, body and limbs. Tremors are generally slow, rhythmic and involuntary
  • rigidity—the first signs include painful muscle cramps in your toes or hands, and you may feel like your limbs are made of wood
  • postural abnormalities—your head may feel like it is moving downwards, and your body is moving forwards.

You may suffer a loss of balance.


Treating Parkinson’s Disease can vary depending on a variety of factors. Generally, treatment may include medications, surgery and changes to diet and exercise habits.


Levodopa is the most effective medicine used to treat Parkinson’s Disease. It is an amino acid, from which your brain manufactures dopamine, a chemical in your brain responsible for coordinated movement and other cognitive functions. Nausea is a common side effect of Levodopa.


Deep Brain Stimulation is regarded at the safest and most effective surgical treatment for Parkinson’s Disease. It involves the delivery of high-frequency electrical stimulation to a select target in the brain, improving your ability to do everyday tasks.

The surgery works best in people who have a good response to Levodopa, but still suffer side effects or fluctuations in symptom control; are not depressed or suffering from dementia; are healthy enough to have two operations; and have adequate social support.

Side effects can include an inability to move, visual disturbances, feeling light headed, and involuntary movements. A change in settings or switching the system off will stop the side effects.


A diet that includes all vegetables, fruits that are high in fibre (avocado, tomato, peaches, apricots, granny smith apples), fish (especially deep sea), free range eggs, nuts (not peanuts or cashews) and fresh juices is recommended. Too much protein can make your medication less effective.


A physiotherapist or Bowen Therapist will be able to help you with preventing falls and overcoming mobility difficulties as a result of the disease.

Alternative therapies

Many people use a combination of traditional and alternative therapies to manage symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. However, you must always consult your doctor before commencing any alternative therapies.

Two of the most common therapies are:

  • aqua hydration formulas, which improve hydration, circulation of water around your body and the elimination of wastes
  • Bowen therapy, which involves very gentle movements across muscles and tendons to help relieve spasms, pain or stiffness of movement.


Carers play an essential role for people living with Parkinson’s Disease. If you are a carer, it is important that you fully understand the treatment plans and goals of the person with the disease, so that you can support and encourage them.

You also need to remember to take care of yourself, be realistic about what you can and cannot do, and most importantly, ask for help if you need it. There are organisations and community services that are available to help in these situations, listed below:

  • Parkinson’s Queensland INC—free call 1800 644 189 or 07 3397 7555
  • Centrelink (information about financial allowances)—131 021


Barker, E (2008) Neuroscience Nursing: A Spectrum of Care (3rd ed.), St Louis, Missouri: Mosby Elsevier

Coleman, J (2000) Return To Stillness, Melbourne, Australia: John Coleman

Porth, C.M. (2005) Pathophysiology: concepts of altered health states (7th ed.), Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Smeltzer, S.C., & Bare, B (2004) Textbook of medicalsurgical nursing (10th ed.), Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Timby, B.K., & Smith, N.E. (2003) Introductory medicalsurgical nursing (8th ed.), Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Mater Private Hospital Brisbane

301 Vulture Street, South Brisbane QLD 4101
General Enquiries Telephone 07 3163 8111


© 2010 Mater Misericordiae Ltd. ACN 096 708 922

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-450017
Last modified 09/8/2017.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 19/1/2014
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