What Is Parkinson's Disease?

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

Clinical Trials for Parkinson's Disease 

Focused Ultrasound is now being used in a clinical trial for the treatment of motor symptoms for Parkinson's patients.

The PD&MDC has more than 30 years of experience in the diagnosis and management of Parkinson's 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's Rehabilitation Center

In collaboration with the PD&MDC the Dan Aaron Parkinson's 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:

Penn Programs & Services for Parkinson's Disease

Governor Ed Rendell working out by boxing
Movement Disorders

Our movement disorders program provides evaluation, diagnosis and treatment for the full spectrum of movement disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and Tourette syndrome.

Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery

Penn's Center for Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery provides treatments for all types of movement disorders.


Penn’s neurorehabilitation program provides inpatient and outpatient services that restore patients to a maximum level of cognitive and physical function.

Missy Telling Her Story

Missy's Story

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system affecting the motor system, was keeping Missy from doing things she enjoyed.

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