What Is Parkinson Disease?

Parkinson disease (PD) is a chronic and progressive movement disorder of the nervous system that primarily affects movement. It can also cause problems with thinking, mood and changes in sleep. The disease is caused by progressive deterioration of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain.

When functioning normally, neurons produce a variety of brain chemicals that allow communication between different cells. In PD, neurons that produce dopamine are slowly lost. As a result, these cells do not work as well and people have trouble performing fine motor tasks. Also, they can develop involuntary movements, like tremors, or muscle stiffness.

Diagnosis of Parkinson Disease

A neurologist will diagnose PD based on a careful assessment of symptoms, a complete medical history, and a thorough neurological and physical examination. Diagnosing PD is based on specific findings of a neurological examination. In some cases, advanced imaging techniques like MRI scans or dopamine imaging scans can be helpful in making the diagnosis by ruling out other disorders.

Treatment at Penn

The Parkinson Disease and Movement Disorders Center (PD&MDC), located at Pennsylvania Hospital, provides comprehensive care to patients with PD and other parkinsonian syndromes.

The PD&MDC has more than 30 years of experience in the diagnosis and management of Parkinson disease. The needs of both patients and their families are the highest priority when delivering care. Our approach is to manage PD using a combination of gold standard interventions and the newest discoveries from scientific literature and innovative research. All of our physicians and nurse practitioners practice evidence-based care.

It's our goal to educate patients and their families about PD, because it's critical to achieve an improved quality of life. Many clinical research studies, including observational clinical trials and new medication trials, are coordinated at PD&MDC and are available to all of our patients.

Treatment options available for PD include:

  • Deep brain stimulation
  • Drug treatment
  • Individualized treatment plans
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Psychiatric and neuropsychology services
  • Social services
  • Speech therapy
  • Support for caregivers
  • The Dan Aaron Parkinson Rehabilitation Center

    In collaboration with the PD&MDC the Dan Aaron Parkinson Rehabilitation Center (DAPRC) provides comprehensive rehabilitation services to patients with PD and other movement disorders. Established in 2000, the DAPRC was the first center of its kind in the Philadelphia region and is still a model of care for other rehabilitation facilities.

    The DAPRC offers patients:

  • Comprehensive physical, occupational and speech therapy
  • Participation in rehabilitation research projects
  • Weekly exercise groups for patients
  • Yearly rehabilitation conferences for patients and care partners
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