Parkinson's Disease Life Expectancy: Is There Hope For Survival?

Parkinson's disease life expectancy is the greatest concern that comes to mind if you or a loved one is diagnosed with the illness, especially in the wake of CNN's report of Parkinson's disease claiming its latest victim, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. The 78-year-old battled the illness for 20 years, but she succumbed to complications on November 7. Her name is added to a growing list of famous individuals, including champion boxer Mohammed Ali, actor Robin Williams, cartoonist Charles M. Schultz, and Pope John Paul II, all of whom were diagnosed with the brain disorder and subsequently lost their lives.

Parkinson's disease is a disorder in which the cells of the brain that are responsible for producing dopamine, a chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter and plays a role in physical mobility, begin to die off. It is a degenerative disease, and as it progresses, the symptoms worsen. In addition to decreasing levels of dopamine, norepinephrine levels decrease as well. Norepinephrine is another neurotransmitter. Its role is to regulate the body's automatic functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, and digestive function. It is no wonder that the question of Parkinson's disease life expectancy arises when considering these compromises in vital bodily function.

According to the National Parkinson Foundation, Parkinson's disease life expectancy may be shortened, but the illness is not fatal. In most patients, the disease progresses slowly, as do its symptoms. The degenerative brain disorder is classified in stages that indicate how far along the illness has progressed. Stage I is the earliest stage in which the characteristic symptoms of tremors, muscle stiffness, difficulty with movement and balance, and an expressionless mask to the face, present. By stage V, the most advanced stage, symptoms have significantly worsened, putting the individual at risk for secondary health complications. It is these complications that threaten lifespan. Some of these complications include falls that result in concussions or other potentially fatal injuries, aspiration pneumonia, and pulmonary embolism.

Parkinson's disease patient lying in bed while he visits with family.
[Image by LPETTET/iStock]

One factor in Parkinson's disease life expectancy lies in the individual's age at the time of diagnosis. Most patients who are diagnosed are 60 years of age or older. People of this age group are already more likely to sustain falls and contract certain health conditions. Gender also plays a role in that women with the brain disorder generally live longer than their male counterparts. Early diagnosis and diligent treatment are the keys to extending longevity while living with the disease. This has remained a challenge since there is still no cure, and there is no definitive test for diagnosing Parkinson's disease either. Diagnosis is usually based on the presentation of symptoms and their response to treatment.

One of the most prominent individuals who has been coping with Parkinson's disease is actor Michael J. Fox. Diagnosed at the age of 30, he has been battling his disease as well as crusading for other in the quest to find a cure for 25 years. The actor added the role of advocate to his life resume as he founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson's Research. There is still no cure, but according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, the latest research shows promise in extending Parkinson's disease life expectancy. A cancer treatment drug, which is known as nilotinib, has been shown in preliminary studies to reduce levels of a particular protein that is often elevated in patients with Parkinson's disease. The goal is to commence clinical trials of nilotinib in 2017.

Michael J. Fox poses at the Wall at a Parkinson's disease research event
[Image by Rob Kim/Getty Images]

As the race for a cure continues, treatment protocols that include drug therapies and surgical procedures are available to slow the progression of the disease and reduce the severity of the symptoms. Daily exercise or physical therapy, as well as an emotional support network, are important. If you are experiencing neurological symptoms, consult with a physician. An early diagnosis and dedicated treatment can put off the onset of potentially fatal complications and lengthen your Parkinson's disease life expectancy. Do you know someone struggling with Parkinson's disease?

[Featured Image by Green Apple/Shutterstock]