Life with Parkinson’s: Exercise, take your medication, live life to the fullest

The incidence of Parkinson’s disease, a movement disorder, is expected to rise in Singapore as the population ages. At present, three out of every 1,000 people aged 50 and above suffer from Parkinson’s disease, which is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in Singapore after Alzheimer’s disease.

“A study in Singapore showed that Parkinson’s disease occurs as commonly [here] as in the West,” says Dr Tay Kay Yaw, Senior Consultant, Department of Neurology, National Neuroscience Institute. “The older one gets, the greater the risk of getting the disease.”

Parkinson’s disease is caused by the degeneration of brain cells which produce dopamine, a chemical which plays a vital role in regulating movement.

A combination of genetic and environmental factors is believed to cause Parkinson’s disease.

“There is no conclusive proof that Parkinson’s disease can be prevented,” says Dr Tay.

What are the common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

  • Shaking (tremors) of arms or legs when at rest
  • Stiffness of arms, legs and other parts of the body
  • Slow movement
  • Difficulty in walking
  • Stability/balance problems when standing and walking
  • Expressionless face

Parkinson’s patients may also experience other symptoms such as loss of sense of smell, depression, anxiety, constipation, soft voice, and problems with memory and sleep.

A neurologist will typically diagnose Parkinson’s disease on the basis of the symptoms present.

How is Parkinson’s disease treated?

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder whose symptoms worsen over time. Treatment, based on oral medication, focuses on managing symptoms and improving daily functioning.

Patients at an advanced stage of the disease may benefit from a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation.

Medication: Drugs that are suitable for one patient may not be suitable for another. Therefore, a medication plan has to be specially-tailored for individual patients based on the severity and frequency of their symptoms, as well as factors such as age and other medical conditions.

Patients suffering from facial spasms or dystonia may benefit from botulinum toxin injections.

Surgery – deep brain stimulation: A medical device implanted in the brain sends electrical impulses to specific targets. These impulses block abnormal nerve signals that cause tremors and movement difficulties.

Regular exercise and physical therapy can help improve movement, balance and coordination and muscle strength.

Tips for patients living with Parkinson’s disease:

“Stay calm and beat Parkinson’s. Be determined and have the will power to fight. Exercise regularly, take your medication and live life to the fullest,” says Dr Tay.


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