Parkinson’s Awareness: Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease
If you’re under the age of 40, it’s likely that you haven’t thought much about Parkinson’s disease because there’s a common perception that Parkinson’s disease only affects the elderly. However, improved Parkinson’s awareness is happening and one of the things you need to know is about young onset Parkinson’s disease. While the onset of Parkinson’s is normally between the ages of 50-65, between 5-10% of people with Parkinson’s experience young onset: onset of Parkinson’s disease before the age of 40.
What Are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that typically begins with a movement disorder, such as a tremor, on one side of the body. This side of the body tends to be more affected even if symptoms progress to the rest of the body. Each person is different, but young onset Parkinson’s and traditional Parkinson’s both have the same symptoms.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:
- Tremor – often of a hand when it is at rest
- Slowed movement (bradykinesia)
- Rigid muscles
- Impaired posture and balance
- Loss of automatic movements – includes unconscious movements like blinking or smiling
- Speech changes
- Writing changes
Parkinson’s Awareness: Differences Between Traditional and Young Onset Parkinson’s
On average, onset of Parkinson’s disease is around the age of 60, but those diagnosed before the age of 40 are considered to have young onset Parkinson’s. While the symptoms faced by those with young onset Parkinson’s are similar to traditional Parkinson’s, there are some differences:
- Young onset Parkinson’s is less likely to lead to dementia and balance problems.
- Young onset Parkinson’s is more likely to include focal dystonia (cramping or abnormal posturing of one part of the body).
- Younger people are more sensitive to the benefits of Parkinson’s medications, but they tend to experience the dyskinetic (involuntary muscle movements) side effects of levodopa (a common Parkinson’s drug) sooner than older people.
- Younger people also tend to experience dose-related response fluctuations at an earlier stage of the disease. Ie, medication usefulness fluctuates over time.
People with young onset Parkinson’s tend to have a slower progression of the disease and tend to work for another 15-20 years, on average.
Treatment Considerations in Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease
The choice to medicate young onset Parkinson’s disease is a personal one and no one strategy will work for all people. The timing of when to start medication is generally influenced by:
- Whether you working or retired
- Your age
- Whether the symptoms appear on the dominant or non-dominant side
- The nature of the symptoms
- What types of activities you enjoy
Medication decisions need to be made in conjunction with a neurologist or other specialist doctor. It is important to know that no known medication will slow the progression of Parkinson’s and they are only able to provide symptom relief.
There are five questions suggested by the Parkinson Society of Canada that people ask their healthcare professional about medications:
- Do drugs lose their effectiveness over time if I start treatment early on?
- What are the benefits of each kind of medication?
- Should I be concerned about behaviours related to taking drugs, such as confusion or compulsive activities (e.g., shopping or gambling)?
- Are medications covered by the provincial drug plan?
- Would a clinical trial be appropriate for me? Can you help me find one?
The answers to these can inform medication and treatment decisions. In advanced cases, surgery may be recommended.
People with young onset Parkinson’s are generally encouraged to exercise regularly and even attend physical therapy to improve stretching, balance, and overall health.
“This article was written by award-winning mental health writer and speaker, Natasha Tracy.”