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What is Parkinson's?

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative condition caused by insufficient quantities of dopamine in the brain. Parkinson’s has both motor and non-motor symptoms, and while it cannot be cured it can be treated.

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What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition.

Parkinson’s is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world.

Today, over 12,000 New Zealanders have Parkinson’s, and numbers are expected to increase significantly over the coming years.

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition that is caused by the loss or degeneration of nerves cells that produce dopamine in the brain. When 80% of dopamine is lost, the symptoms of Parkinson’s occur.

The most common symptoms of Parkinson’s are tremor, stiffness and slowness of movement. It also impacts on people’s thought patterns and emotions and can affect their ability to communicate. 

Not everyone will experience the same symptoms and the condition affects everyone differently. 

Parkinson’s has both motor and non-motor symptoms.

The four main motor symptoms of Parkinson’s are:
  • Involuntary shaking (or tremor)
  • Slow movement
  • Stiff and inflexible muscles; and
  • Loss of balance. 
The main non-motor symptoms include: 
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy; and 
  • Problems with sleep.

Parkinson’s is relatively common. Approximately 1 in 500 people have the condition. It becomes more common with older age groups, and it is believed 1% of people above the age of 60 have Parkinson’s. The average age at diagnosis is 59.

In Parkinson's the majority of cases are idiopathic meaning the cause is unknown. However, about 10% of people with Parkinson's are thought to have a genetic (monogenic) form of the condition.

Although we know a lot about the changes in the nerve cells of the brain in Parkinson’s, we do not yet know what causes or triggers the development of Parkinson’s. Symptoms can be treated but there is no known cure. Researchers across the world continue to investigate new treatments.

Parkinson’s is often referred to as ‘Parkinson’s disease’ but it is not contagious, and you cannot pass it from one person to another.

Parkinson’s cannot be cured but there are treatments which can control the symptoms and improve quality of life.


Parkinson's and Parkinsonism conditions

Parkinson's or Parkinson's Plus?

Parkinsonism is an umbrella term which includes a variety of conditions that are similar to Parkinson's.

Diagnosing Parkinson's or Parkinsonism is difficult as there are no special tests that can prove absolutely whether someone has a particular condition, so a variety of techniques usually based on clinical examination and medical history are used.

Parkinson's is the most common condition and is sometimes referred to as idiopathic Parkinson's disease. This is because for the majority of people with Parkinson’s we do not know what caused it.

People with Parkinson's should show an initial good response to the common Parkinson’s medication, Levodopa. People with Parkinsonism conditions usually do not respond or tend to respond less well. If specialists see unusual symptoms and a poor response, they may start to consider whether the person has Parkinson's or a Parkinsonism condition. The terms 'Parkinson's Syndrome', 'Atypical Parkinsonism' or 'Parkinson's Plus' may be used by the doctor. These terms are not diagnoses but simply indicate that the person probably does not have idiopathic Parkinson's. Symptoms that allow the doctor to make a specific diagnosis may only appear as the condition develops.

At Parkinson's New Zealand we use the term 'Parkinson's Plus' and provide support and information for all people with Parkinson's plus conditions -including Multiple System Atrophy, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, Corticobasal Syndrome and Dementia with Lewy Bodies. These conditions are rare, making our support vital.

People diagnosed with Parkinson’s under the age of 60 are considered to have early-onset Parkinson’s in Aotearoa New Zealand.

While Parkinson’s is often considered an older person’s condition, approximately 10% of the population diagnosed with Parkinson’s are under the age of 60.

Although most symptoms are the same at whatever age Parkinson's develops, the psychological, social, and medical management implications are very different for people with early-onset Parkinson's. A diagnosis at a young age presents its own unique set of challenges as people are often still working, raising whānau and juggling financial demands.

Although there is currently no cure for Parkinson's and Parkinson's Plus conditions there are treatments which can control the symptoms and improve quality of life.

Curious About the Symptoms?

Everybody with Parkinson's experiences a different number and combination of symptoms.

Curious About the Treatment?

There are treatment options available for people with Parkinson’s.

Living with Parkinson’s: the Stories