Parkinson’s disease, the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s, affects more than 200,000 people in France. But it remains poorly known.
In the world of neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s takes center stage. To the point, sometimes, of blurring the cards on other diseases in the minds of the general public. And Parkinson pays for it. “It is the most misunderstood of known diseases,” sums up Evelyne Barbazanges, Haute-Garonne departmental delegate of France Parkinson. The association has just organized an afternoon of conferences in Toulouse on the occasion of World Parkinson’s Day. “We have to talk about this disease, many misconceptions circulate among patients. When the diagnosis is announced, they immediately imagine themselves in a wheelchair or with memory and cognition disorders as in Alzheimer’s, even though it is not the same disease. Parkinson’s is more scary than multiple sclerosis or cancer and it’s often out of ignorance,” says Dr. Christine Brefel-Courbon, neurologist, head of the Parkinson’s Expert Center at the University Hospital Center (CHU) in Toulouse.
For this doctor, it is important to inform. “Of course, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease and we don’t know how to stop its development. But you can live with it and be fine for decades. I tell my patients that life will never be the same again, but that illness does not prevent living. Medications exist to reduce symptoms, and non-drug interventions are also important. Physical activity, physiotherapy sessions (stretching, relaxation), speech therapy, cognitive therapies give results and are essential for the well-being of patients in their daily lives,” adds Dr. Christine Brefel-Courbon.
The neurologist, who came to present an inventory of research, remained optimistic: “Research is very active, many molecules are being studied to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease and reduce symptoms. Leads are also promising on the side of gene therapy”.
Messages that have not escaped patients and their loved ones. Like Thierry, 61, diagnosed as “Parkinsonian” for a year, active support for research “since the disease is irreversible”. Or Arlette, 82, who knows she has been sick for two years, came to seek advice. “The hardest thing is fatigue, lack of sleep,” explains Arlette. Her husband, Jean, agrees: “Before, she was very active, it was a volcano. We feel helpless”.
“There is no composite portrait of the Parkinson’s patient, the disease is multiple. We should raise awareness, educate the population to understand that it can take longer to pay for your baguette at the bakery or to walk through a door, ”says Pierre Cournaud, deputy director general of the France Parkinson association. He recalls that in 2030, one in 120 French people aged over 45 will be affected by Parkinson’s disease.
A disease that affects dopamine neurons
Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the destruction of certain brain neurons (dopamine neurons) involved in movement control. Patients can remain asymptomatic for several years, as long as the brain manages, through its plasticity, to compensate for the loss of 50% to 70% of dopamine neurons. The most emblematic symptoms of the disease are: slowness in the execution of movements or difficulty in producing them, rigidity of the limbs, the presence of tremors at rest. Among the elderly, Parkinson’s disease is a major cause of disability.
To date, there is no treatment to prevent the onset or progression of the disease, only dopamine intake to treat motor symptoms and improve the quality of life of patients.