Dutch Island

by Curt Weeden

Dr. Bernard Fogel

Dr. Bernard Fogel is chair of the National Parkinson Foundation.

About Parkinson’s Disease and the National Parkinson Foundation

Parkinson's disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer's, affecting about one million people in the United States and an estimated four million worldwide. The Center for Disease Control rated complications from Parkinson's disease as the 14th leading cause of death in the United States.

The prevalence of the disease is expected to increase substantially in the next 20 years because of the aging of the population in the U.S., Europe and globally, as well as an increase in the age-related incidence of the disease. The economic burden of Parkinson's disease is estimated to be $6 billion annually in the U.S. alone.

PD is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that progresses slowly in most people. What this means is that individuals with PD will be living with PD for twenty years or more from the time of diagnosis. There is currently no cure for Parkinson's; however, your doctors will be focused and dedicated to finding treatments that help control the symptoms of PD and have a good quality of life.

Normally, there are brain cells (neurons) in the human brain that produce dopamine. These neurons concentrate in a particular area of the brain, called the substantia nigra. Dopamine is a chemical that relays messages between the substantia nigra and other parts of the brain to control movements of the human body. Dopamine helps humans to have smooth coordinated muscle movements. When approximately 60 to 80% of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged, and do not produce enough dopamine, the motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease appear. This process of impairment of brain cells is called neurodegeneration.

The current theory (so-called Braak's hypothesis) is that the earliest signs of Parkinson's are found in the enteric nervous system, the medulla and in particular, the olfactory bulb, which controls your sense of smell. Under this theory, Parkinson's only progresses to the substantia nigra and cortex over the years. This theory is increasingly borne out by evidence that non-motor symptoms, such as a loss of sense of smell, hyposmia, sleep disorders and constipation may precede the motor features of the disease by several years. For this reason, researchers are increasingly focused on these "non-motor" symptoms to both detect PD as early as possible and to look for ways to stop its progression.

National Parkinson Foundation logo

For over half a century, the National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) has focused on meeting the needs in the care and treatment of people with Parkinson's disease (PD). NPF has funded more than $164 million in care, research and support services.

Unique among other Parkinson's organizations, NPF has a singular focus—its mission is to improve the quality of care through research, education and outreach.Today, NPF has created a global network serving the needs of the Parkinson's community including:

NPF drives breakthrough research by bringing together the thought leaders at NPF Centers of Excellence—leading medical centers around the globe that deliver care to more than 50,000 Parkinson's patients. Through the centers network, NPF creates a community of health care professionals dedicated to improving clinical care in Parkinson's disease.

At the forefront of NPF's efforts is the Quality Improvement Initiative (QII)—the first large-scale comprehensive study to track how Parkinson's disease progresses and how various treatments affect outcomes. The long-term goal of QII is to create feed-forward clinical decision making that will help people with Parkinson's manage their symptoms and keep life at a high-functioning status. The ultimate aim is to create and share models of excellent care, so that every Parkinson's patient receives the most effective treatment options available.

NPF believes that every person diagnosed with Parkinson's deserves the best care and treatment no matter who they are or where they live. The Foundation convenes experts, assemble the scholarly evidence for best practices, and disseminate findings within the field and beyond. The organization believes that advances in treatment are adopted widely only by an increase in knowledge and awareness by scholars, physicians and patients.

For more information about NPF, call 1-800-327-4545 or e-mail contact@parkinson.org. For more information about Parkinson's disease, please call 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636) or e-mail helpline@parkinson.org.

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