Parkinson’s disease is a complex constellation of symptoms. As reported in the August 30, 2011 issue of Neurology, neurologist care of Parkinson patients greatly improves their quality of life and long term clinical outcome. Parkinson disease affects approximately 1 million Americans. It is only second to Alzheimer’s disease as a common neurodegenerative illness. Early diagnosis, recognition of associated symptoms and comorbidities as well as comprehensive care are necessary if a Parkinson patient’s long term clinical outcomes and quality of life are to be maintained.

Neurology has commonly not been taught in the detail that is necessary in most medical schools. Medical students graduate, generally with a limited understanding of neurological diseases and the treatment required for each. Neurology has a vast scope of illnesses, each requiring intimate knowledge and understanding of the disease process as well as the treatment required to optimize patient well being and life quality. It is beyond the scope of medical school, internship and even family medicine or internal medicine residencies to train the young physician sufficiently in the details of neurological disease.

Across the United States, 15-20% of all visits to a primary care doctor’s office (family physician or internal medicine) involve a neurological complaint. While simple problems such as back or neck pain can easily be treated, more complicated illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, migraine headaches, seizures and multiple sclerosis should be managed by a neurologist – particularly a sub-specialist neurologist in the disease process needing treatment. Surveys in the United States, Europe and Asia show that both medical students and general physicians do not feel as comfortable in managing neurological problems as they do other common medical problems.  The article in Neurology clearly shows that Parkinson patients, managed by a neurologist, have overall better outcomes than those managed by family physicians.

Parkinson patients managed by  a neurologist have  an earlier diagnosis. This leads to starting treatment earlier. With early intervention, patient functioning can be maintained and optimized. This allows for the patient and their families to enjoy more quality time together with an increased ability to engage in social activities and travel. The study reported in Neurology, looked at over 138,000 Parkinson patents. The finding of this study showed that about 20% of patents with Parkinson’s disease never see a neurologist. These patients had a higher rate of falling, hip fractures, nursing home admission and death at an earlier age.

Parkinson patents cared for by a neurologist, by contrast, significantly had fewer hip fractures. Hip fractures are a major cause of disability and death in the elderly. Inherent to Parkinson patients is gait instability and a tendency for stumbles and falls. Falling prevention is a main goal in all elderly patients, but particularly those with Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, many who suffer a hip fracture may become wheelchair confined, even with successful hip fracture repair.  One third of all patients who suffer a hip fracture will die within a year of their fracture! The annual cost of managing a patient with a hip fracture is $20,000 per person – not including medical costs. With detailed care of all of a Parkinson patients symptoms, a neurologist can better prevent these patients from falling and suffering fractures.

The second finding of this study was that Parkinson patients getting state-of-the-art care by a neurologist had a lower probability of being admitted to a nursing home. While most Parkinson patients do not need nursing home care, those with more advanced disease, Parkinson related dementia or complications such as hip fractures frequently need skilled nursing facility placement. Parkinson’s disease is complex condition. Not only are the motor symptoms a major problem, but so are the cognitive and psychological problems that go along with this disease. Depression and anxiety occur in over fifty percent of Parkinson patients. Early recognition and treatment  is critical for improved patent and caregiver quality of life. Dementia is also a common problem. It can start as mild memory loss but will progress. Neurologists are sensitive to these problems and there are medications as well as dietary supplements that help to improve these problems.

The final finding of the Neurology study was that there was a statistically significant increase in the six year survival of patients with Parkinson’s disease managed by a neurologist. There are multiple reasons why this may be the case, including earlier use of the many types of medications used in Parkinson management, treatment of coexisting psychiatric problems and addressing the multitude of other medical problems that are frequently associated with Parkinson’s disease.

The conclusion for Parkinson patients and their family or caregivers is to get that patient into see a neurologist, particularly a neurologist who specializes in movement disorders. Patients want more control over their life, improved quality of life and the ability to remain functional as long as possible. This is true for the Parkinson patient as well. Take control of your life, contact Sarasota Neurology for consultation and management of your Parkinson’s disease. It will most likely be the best thing you could do for yourself – for the rest of your life.


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