What is Parkinson's?


Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative disease. Movement is normally controlled by dopamine, a chemical that carries signals between the nerves in the brain. When cells that normally produce dopamine die, the symptoms of Parkinson's appear.

Most common symptoms

  • Tremor
  • Slowness and stiffness
  • Impaired balance
  • Rigidity of the muscles

Other symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Soft speech
  • Problems with handwriting
  • Stooped posture
  • Constipation
  • Sleep disturbances

A diagnosis of Parkinson's can take time. A family doctor might notice it first. You may be referred to a neurologist – a specialist who deals with Parkinson's. There are no xrays or tests to confirm Parkinson's. So the neurologist will check your medical history, do a careful physical examination and certain tests, and rule out other conditions which may resemble Parkinson's.

Currently there is no cure. You can live with Parkinson's for years. The symptoms are treated with medication. Some people with Parkinson's may benefit from surgery. The following therapies can also help manage the symptoms:

  • Physical therapy helps mobility, flexibility and balance
  • Occupational therapy helps with daily activities
  • Speech therapy helps with voice control
  • Exercise helps muscles and joints and improves overall health and well-being

Parkinson's can progress at a different rate for each person. As symptoms change, medication will need to be adjusted. As the disease progresses, non-motor symptoms may also appear, such as depression, difficulty swallowing, sexual problems or cognitive changes. It is important to find a doctor who is knowledgeable about Parkinson's, ideally a neurologist. By working with a health-care team, a treatment plan can be created that will meet the person's individual needs.


Every Parkinson’s experience is unique. The symptoms and progression will vary from person to person. Living with Parkinson’s requires an individualized approach which includes all aspects of your life (a holistic approach).

It is important for you to be an active participant in managing the disease. Care partners can also be involved. Members of your care team might include some or all of the following:

Neurologist: ideally a specialist in movement disorders who might make or confirm the diagnosis, decide on treatment, adjust medication

Family doctor: ideally someone who is knowledgeable about Parkinson’s, to provide ongoing care, including annual physical exams

Parkinson’s nurse specialist: many movement disorder specialists have a nurse who specializes in Parkinson’s. The nurse can provide information on how to manage your condition.

Psychiatrist/psychologist: an expert in mental and emotional health issues such as depression, or cognitive abilities

Physiotherapist: makes assessments with mobility, balance and posture; offers techniques on how to move safely; recommends sports or exercise programs

Occupational therapist: makes assessments with living and working environment to ensure safety; suggests equipment or devices that can maintain independence

Speech language pathologist: helps improve voice projection or swallowing difficulties

Dietician: advises on how to plan a healthy diet and maintain ideal weight; helps with dietary issues caused by medications

Social worker: advises on financial and family concerns; helps with accessing resources and services in your community

Other professionals: pharmacists can provide information on medication, drug reimbursements plans; a urologist can help with urinary problems or sexual functioning for men