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Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that affects nerve cells in the brain and makes movement difficult, affects an estimated one million people in the United States. Muhammad Ali, heavyweight boxing champion, was 42. Actor Michael J. Fox was 29. Terry “Tdub” West was 41 when diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

The disorder is chronic and progressive, affecting the nerve cells that produce dopamine. When these cells become impaired or die, the loss of dopamine leads to abnormal nerve firings and impaired movements, including tremors, loss of balance, and other problems. There is no cure yet for the condition, but researchers say they’re piecing together more clues about the roles of genetic and environmental factors. Meanwhile, those diagnosed can take many steps to protect their quality of life and enjoy family, career, and retirement.

Here are 10 facts about Parkinson’s that you may not know:

  1. Parkinson's disease is not just an ''old person's disease." While the disorder is typically diagnosed at around 60, younger people can also be affected. A prominent case in point is actor Michael J. Fox, now 54, who was diagnosed at age 29. It’s called young-onset (or early onset) Parkinson's at age 40 or under.
  2. The cause of Parkinson's is still unknown. A combination of genetic and environmental factors are thought to contribute to the risk of getting Parkinson's. Several genetic mutations have been found that are linked to Parkinson's disease, and lifestyle may also play a role.
  3. Diagnosing Parkinson's disease isn't simple. There's no specific test to diagnose Parkinson's disease. Doctors must rule out other conditions, such as medications that cause the same symptoms, arthritis, or other medical issues. Observing symptoms, plus taking a medical history and asking patients if they feel stiff, slow, or shaky, is how the condition is typically diagnosed. Doctors look for four cardinal features of the movement disorder called TRAP. It’s a mnemonic that stands for: Tremor or shaking at rest (involving the thumb, entire hand, arm, chin, lips, and feet), Rigidity felt by the doctor when rotating a patient's wrist or elbow, Akinesia or bradykinesia (lack of movement or slowness of movement when walking or swinging an arm), Postural instability, making it necessary to hold onto something to maintain balance when walking or rising from a chair.
  4. Parkinson's disease isn't just marked by tremors and other outward symptoms. While those outward symptoms are used as the basis for a diagnosis, the condition involves much more. There’s a lot that doctors can't see, called “invisible symptoms,” that include sleep problems, constipation, slurred speech, and mood problems such as depression. And symptoms vary from one patient to the next. There's an old saying, “If you’ve met one patient with Parkinson's, you've met one patient with Parkinson's.”
  5. Educating yourself about Parkinson’s can improve your quality of life. Good quality of life is possible. Parkinson's, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other chronic conditions, needs to be managed daily.
  6. Treatment should be tailored to your symptoms and your preferences. While there is no cure for Parkinson's disease, treatment can help people live a good quality life. The primary treatment for the tremors and rigidity is a carbidopa-levodopa combination drug, like Sinemet and Rytary, which is thought to help replenish the lost dopamine. But symptoms of Parkinson's disease not only vary from patient to patient — patients also report that they aren't equally bothered by the same symptoms.
  7. Clinical trials are worth considering. Often patients enrolled in clinical trials do better, partly because they are seen more often. But every clinical trial has risks and benefits. There is a potential for harm or injury, but the trial researchers should be sure those risks are minimized in relation to the benefits. Enrolling may also give access to a treatment not otherwise available. Before enrollment, trial administrators should spell out the risks and benefits.
  8. Stress can make the condition worse; telling people about the condition can ease it. Stress can increase symptoms. For some, one source of that stress is hiding the condition from coworkers, family, and friends.
  9. Hospitalizations can be risky. Research has shown that patients with Parkinson's disease are at risk for getting the wrong medicine at the wrong time, and for contracting infections if they are hospitalized, which could lead to deterioration in their overall health.
  10. Depression may affect more than half of all patients, and anxiety affects about 40 percent. Both anxiety and depression can affect the overall health of someone with Parkinson's even more than motor symptoms do, according to the National Parkinson Foundation. And depression and anxiety often occur together, according to research. Fortunately, treatment helps, and options ranging from exercise to medication and psychotherapy, or ''talk therapy,'' are plentiful.

Parkinson’s Disease, like any other serious medical condition, makes those afflicted feel very alone even when they’re not. Next time you see a Parkinson's patient, give them a hug. They probably need it.

The good news? The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke predicts that there will be "significant" breakthroughs in the treatment of Parkinson's in the next 5 to 10 years that could slow or halt the progression of the disease, restore lost function, or prevent it entirely.