There are reports that 10 percent of all people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease are 50 years or younger. Some challenges in Parkinson’s are universal, regardless of age, but there are a number of issues specific to younger people. As a young person with Parkinson’s disease you may ask the following questions:
Apart from the physical challenges of the disease, people with young onset Parkinson’s face unique issues related to family, career, finances and living long-term with a potentially disabling condition. Talking with other people the same age, with the same condition, can be very helpful.
Other ways in which the illness differs in young people is that one of the first symptoms is dystonia – this is when a limb uncontrollably stiffens or draws upwards. Leg or foot dystonia is particularly common affecting about 50 percent of diagnosed young people.
Tremors, which are one of the first signs of Parkinson’s in the elderly, are less common although still troublesome when they occur. Cognitive problems such as memory loss and dementia and loss of balance and co-ordination are also less common in young Parkinson’s disease sufferers.
Treatment for young onset Parkinson’s is generally the same as for the elderly although young patients are regarded as a better choice for new surgical techniques and medicines because they don’t have other age-related problems and they have a longer life ahead of them.
The most commonly prescribed medicine is levodopa. This drug has a significant effect on symptoms and results can be seen within days. But in younger people the adverse side effects of the drug are rapid, far more so than in the elderly and can bring about involuntary movements (known as dyskinesias).
The reason why some young people develop Parkinson’s disease is unknown. Just as with Parkinson’s disease in the elderly, researchers believe there could be a genetic predisposition to the illness or it may be due to environmental factors and certain toxins.
The American Parkinson Disease Association’s National Young Onset Center is a great resource for young people with PD.
Betsy Vierck and Diane Cook: Recently Diagnosed with PD
Diagnosed in 2008, Diane knew right away her life would change. She faced her disease head on, becoming an advocate for herself and for others. She has a flourishing career as a consultant and is the author of several books. She is now enjoying a reduction in her PD symptoms which she attributes to a skilled neurologist and exercise.