Is Parkinson’s fatal? Can you die from Parkinson’s disease? These questions have probably been asked by everyone who has ever been diagnosed with this disease. And while the answer to this question is simple, it’s still very important to understand, so that you can live a healthy and long life.
Is Parkinson’s fatal?
Can you die from Parkinson’s disease? The simple answer to this question is no, Parkinson’s is not fatal. However, many people have experiences of their loved one progressing and getting worse with their Parkinson’s symptoms before passing away. So does Parkinson’s play any role in death, and if not, why does it seem to many people who have lost loved ones that Parkinson’s was the cause of their loved one’s death?
What is Parkinson’s disease (quick shot overview)
Before looking into the relationship between Parkinson’s and death let’s quickly review what Parkinson’s is and how it affects the body.
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a chronic neurologic condition which causes a gradual loss of the nerve cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Because dopamine carries signals to the part of the brain that control movement and coordination, decreased dopamine levels lead to the cardinal motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease like resting tremor, stiffness or slow movements. Because other parts of the brain and other neurotransmitters (other than dopamine) can be affected in Parkinson’s disease, other symptoms can occur as well like lightheadedness, constipation and others. To learn more about Parkinson’s click here.
How does Parkinson’s affect your health?
Parkinson’s can affect your health in a variety of ways including:
- Resting tremors
- Generalized slowness (bradykinesia)
- Stiffness of the limbs (cogwheel rigidity)
- Postural instability (balance problems that result in an increased risk of falls)
- Shuffling gait
- Difficulty swallowing
- Cognitive decline
- Sleep Disturbance
- Depression or anxiety
So, what relationship do the health effects of Parkinson’s have with death?
The adverse health effects of Parkinson’s are serious, and you should work with your doctor to explore the many ways to manage your Parkinson’s symptoms. However, Parkinsonian symptoms do not directly cause death, but they do increase your risk for other factors that can lead to death. For instance, one of the symptoms of Parkinson’s is postural instability which leads to an increased risk of falls. Postural instability by itself will not cause death but falls can lead to serious injuries that can result in death. So, Parkinson’s symptoms can increase the risk for death but will not cause death in and of itself.
This is an important distinction to make because instead of seeing Parkinson’s as a death sentence we should look at it as a manageable risk factor – the same way we look at dieting. A poor diet will not kill you, but it will increase your risk for developing diseases that can. We should think of Parkinson’s in the same way, that if we manage our symptoms of Parkinson’s through exercise, medication, etc. we decrease the likelihood of risk factors that lead to death.
Does Parkinson’s affect your lifespan?
Parkinson’s research and treatments have come a long way, so much so that the average life span of a person with Parkinson’s is the same or near the same as someone without Parkinson’s disease. However, the lifespan of a person can vary widely based upon that person’s health choices, such as their diet, exercise routine, if they have a history of smoking and many other factors. So, for most people with Parkinson’s, as long as you focus on managing your Parkinson’s disease and make healthy choices your lifespan should not be shortened.
What does kill people with Parkinson’s?
While no one dies directly from Parkinson’s, you may be asking yourself what does typically cause death in Parkinson’s patients. The two of the biggest causes of death for people with Parkinson’s are Falls and Pneumonia:
Falls – Parkinson’s patients are typically at an increased risk of falls due to postural instability and other symptoms of Parkinson’s. This poses a great risk to those with PD because falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among those 65 years or older according to the CDC. It is important to take precautions to limit the risk of falling in your home. This can be done by wearing special grip socks to prevent slipping or installing handrails in high-risk areas like the shower or staircase. In addition, you should talk with your doctor about getting a physical therapy evaluation periodically to strengthen your balance reflexes and help you develop other strategies to keep you safe in the home.
Pneumonia – More specifically, aspiration Pneumonia is a common cause of death for people with Parkinson’s. This is because aspiration Pneumonia is caused when food or other material goes down the windpipe, gets stuck there, and causes an infection. This poses a greater danger to those with Parkinson’s because one of the symptoms of PD is difficulty swallowing and this can often result in food or a liquid going down the wrong pipe. A great way to manage this risk for those with Parkinson’s is to perform vocal cord strengthening exercises to help them manage this symptom of Parkinson’s. If you are looking for vocal cord exercises check out our communication club wellness programs. In addition, you should talk with your doctor about any difficulty swallowing to find out if you need a formal swallow evaluation test or speech therapy.
A final word of encouragement and advice for Parkinson’s disease
So, is Parkinson’s fatal? Can you die from Parkinson’s? The answer is no. Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s is scary but it is not a death sentence. There are many things you can do to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s to help minimize any risks associated with its symptoms and live a full happy life. So, let’s get out there and fight back against Parkinson’s!
How PFNCA Can Help You With Your Parkinson’s
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PFNCA provides Parkinson’s exercise classes live, in person and online. You can improve your quality of life by managing your symptoms in a fun and supportive environment with others facing Parkinson’s.