MURRAY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. Studies show that every six minutes, someone will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

“It’s incredibly important for people with Parkinson’s to be diagnosed early because the sooner we can begin treatment the better people do long term,” says Kathleen McKee, MD, a neurologist at Intermountain Health and associate medical director of neuroscience research and director of the Movement Disorders Center at Intermountain.

Parkinson’s is a disease of the central nervous system. Parkinson’s begins when certain nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine, begin to die. Dopamine is a chemical that sends messages to the parts of the brain that control movement and mood and motivation.

Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, meaning that symptoms will worsen over time. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease.

As the disease progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, causing stiffness, slowness, tremor, and difficulty walking along with many “non-motor” symptoms one cannot see such as depression, apathy, constipation, low blood pressure, and urinary trouble.

The causes of Parkinson’s disease are not well understood. However, there are factors that have appeared to take a role. Approximately 15% of people with Parkinson’s disease have found to have a family history of this disorder.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s may include:

• Stiffness or rigidity of the muscles

• Difficulties with balance and coordination

• Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)

• Difficulties with speech and writing

• Mood disorders

• Sleep difficulties

• Constipation

• Loss of smell

Currently, there is no one diagnostic test (such as a blood test or an x-ray) to diagnose Parkinson’s. Instead, physicians will perform a neurological evaluation. During this exam, the doctor will rule out other medical conditions that mimic the appearance of Parkinson’s.

Since there is no known cause for Parkinson’s, there aren’t currently any proven ways to prevent the disease.

However, medication can help control symptoms, but do not slow the progression of the disease. The treatment with the most evidence that it might slow down the progression of the disease is actually intense exercise. Recent evidence suggests that certain kinds of exercise may be protect your neurons, improve motor symptoms, and may slow the disease.

Sometimes Parkinson’s will complicate one’s day to day activities such as dressing, sleeping, eating, walking, and even bathing.

Because Parkinson’s Disease often affects one’s lifestyle, it’s important to be aware of how one’s mental and emotional health is also impacted. Depression and anxiety are very common in Parkinson’s Disease patients. Discussing changes in emotion with a provider will help in providing the proper help or support needed.

“It’s important for family members of individuals with Parkinson’s Disease to recognize that changes in both motor function and mood/emotion are not the fault of the individual but rather due to chemical changes in that loved one’s brain,” says Dr. McKee. “Family members can help by encouraging their loved one to talk with their provider about these changes.”

To find a provider or learn more about Parkinson’s, visit Intermountain Health at

Sponsored by Intermountain Health.