Living with Parkinson’s Disease

by Dr. Michael Fuentes


Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder. One of the first steps to living with the disease is to understand it.

When an individual has Parkinson’s disease, vital nerve cells in the brain – called neurons – malfunction and die. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls the body’s movement and coordination. The amount of dopamine decreases as Parkinson’s disease progresses, which causes difficulty for an individual to control his or her body’s movements. 

More than 1 million people live with Parkinson’s disease in the United States, with symptoms varying from person to person. Some symptoms of the disease are easy to see, while others are hard to detect. Symptoms often begin on one side of the body, but eventually will affect both sides as the disease progresses. Signs of Parkinson’s disease can include:

  • Tremors or shaking of a body part
  • Slowness of movements
  • Difficulty with walking or balance
  • Muscle stiffness or rigidity
  • Voice softening or slurring of words
  • Loss of automatic movements such as eye blinking or smiling
  • Handwriting becomes smaller
  • Stooping or hunching over

While there is no known cause or cure for Parkinson’s disease, individuals can take an active role in their health to help control symptoms and manage the disease. Research has shown that a combined focus on medication management and intensive rehabilitation in an inpatient rehabilitation setting can dramatically improve function and quality of life in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

An individual treated through an inpatient rehabilitation facility is offered the latest in rehabilitative technology and a multi-disciplinary approach that provides the expertise of numerous healthcare professionals including physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, dietitians, pharmacists, case managers, nurses, and more. Members of the healthcare team work with the individual, family members, and his or her physician to develop a customized plan of care to meet needs and goals.

The treatments provided by the multidisciplinary team can address a number of issues, including:  

  • Medication management
  • Muscle tone/tremor management
  • Balance
  • Walking difficulty
  • Speed of movements
  • Fatigue and endurance
  • Use of adaptive equipment
  • Swallowing
  • Deep brain stimulator monitoring
  • Posture
  • Impaired memory, problem-solving, and behavior
  • Communication
  • Self-care skills, such as feeding and dressing
  • Bowel and bladder training
  • Depression management
  • Education on fall prevention and home safety
  • Voice and speech impairments
  • Range of motion, trunk mobility, rigidity reduction

            Members of the healthcare team remain aware of each other, communicate regularly, and coordinate treatments and medications to allow for the best possible outcome.

If you would like to learn more about Parkinson’s disease treatments available at Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital, call 361-906-3700.

Dr. Michael Fuentes is the Medical Director of Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital. For more information, visit CCRH.ernesthealth.com, call 361-906-3700, or visit the hospital at 5726 Esplanade Drive, Corpus Christi, Texas.