Parkinson’s disease is a progressive illness of the brain that affects ability to move because it causes the muscles to lose control. Early signs of Parkinson’s include tremors, difficulty in walking and even just standing, speech alterations, movements, stooped posture, and changes in handwriting.
On the other hand, ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) is a disease that affects the brain's nerve cells and the spinal cord. The continuous muscle weakness is the first symptom, which is most common in people with ALS. Other symptoms include dropping things, muscle cramps and twitches, slurred speech, uncontrollable laughing or crying, and difficulty in breathing. The symptoms of these two disorders are almost the same that has negative effects on both movement and muscle function.
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease and ALS?
Dopamine is the chemical in the brain that allows the nerve cells to communicate. The substantia nigra, a small area in the brainstem, controls movement and produces dopamine. As the cells in the substantia nigra diminish, the brain no longer receives the vital messages which instruct us on movement, causing Parkinson’s disease.
There is no specific root cause when it comes to the possible causes of ALS. The only known fact states that nerve cells which control the muscles movement die. Because the message transmitted by the nerves is incomplete, the muscles are unable to function and begin to weaken. Until now, researchers continue to conduct further studying to observe if the immune system also causes the body to attack the nerve cells.
What are the Chances Of Acquiring Parkinson’s and ALS?
The average age to acquire Parkinson's Disease is 62. However, people 60 years and older have a 2% to 4% risk of developing Parkinson's. Having one of your family members being affected by the condition might increase your chance, slightly. It is also more likely to acquire Parkinson's as a man than as a woman. Some other additional factors include being a victim of a head injury and exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides.
People with ALS are triggered by environmental factors such as smoke and lead exposure. Research also shows that military service veterans are frequently at risk of developing ALS. According to the ALS Association, most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70. It also occurs that as men and women grow older, the risk of getting such diseases also increases. ALS is 20% more common in men than in women.
A CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) study shows that more than 12 people across 30 US states died from Parkinson’s and ALS. This data was gathered from 1985 to 2011. Also, most of the people who died from the disorders are those in the higher class with white-collar jobs. Findings were tallied and summarized on a chart that shows the occupation and the number of deaths related to Parkinson’s and ALS. An article posted on the American Council on Science and Health shows the findings summarized and tallied by the CDC researchers.
The occupations with the greatest number of Parkinson’s and ALS deaths are the following:
- Business Management and Marketing
- Computer and Mathematical fields
- Architects and Engineers
- Science and Research
- Social Services
- Legal Occupations
- Teachers and Professors
- Sports Athletes and Analysts
- Health Care Specialists
Occupations under the protective and military service are not linked to the disease. However, other jobs like farming, fishing, construction, transportation, and material moving show lower risk and statistics.
Recent vs. Old Study
The traditional wisdom suggests that those who are exposed to environmental chemicals are at higher risk. Instead, the CDC researchers found a different result where jobs who handle chemicals showed a lower number of deaths. The researchers were able to identify higher Parkinson’s and ALS mortality among employees in SES jobs. However, they were not able to find links that might explain the occupational and non-occupational factors.
The American Council on Science and Health stated that this could be because of the fact that occupational factors are very broad. For instance, farmers could be grouped into several categories as farming, forestry, and even fishing. But, it is still possible that pesticides can cause ALS or PD in farmers. But, an association of the disease and occupation would not be discovered in the said analysis as farmers are categorized with other workers who don't use pesticides.
How Parkinson’s and ALS affect People with White-Collar Jobs
People diagnosed with Parkinson’s and ALS suffer from neurodegeneration, a process by which a part of the brain dies as a result of a disease. The brain operates the whole system of our body that transmits messages to its different parts, which enable our cells to work. A person with Parkinson’s or ALS experiences difficulty in movement and speech, thus making it harder to perform every day’s activities.
As per the CDC findings, most people with white-collar jobs are most likely to die from Parkinson’s and ALS. These jobs include those in the managerial, computer, and science fields which requires critical thinking. Once a person has one of these neurological diseases, their own being and their job will be greatly affected. Thus, causing hard working people to go down a difficult road.
Diagnosis and Treatment
No specific test has been made to directly diagnose Parkinson’s and ALS. However, there are different tests which can help to identify if a patient has these conditions. In a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, a doctor will check at least two of the following three common symptoms:
- Tremor that even occurs during rest
- Slow body movement
- Muscle stiffness
Other tests such as brain scans are also performed to diagnose Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s disease has no cure yet; however, various treatment and therapies are out there to control the symptoms of the condition and to slow down normal progress. These treatment and therapies include physical therapy (PT) to improve the person’s movement and speech/language therapy. Diet alterations including the increasing of fiber and salt intake are also included to balance the diet and prevent weight loss. Other than therapies, surgery is also an option for Parkinson’s disease treatment. This option mostly applies to patients having a good response to levodopa, one of the main drug used to treat Parkinson’s symptoms. Other common medications for Parkinson’s include dopamine replacement therapy, dopamine agonists, anticholinergics, amantadine, monoamine oxidase type B inhibitors, and catechol-o-methyltransferase inhibitors.
ALS diagnostic tests include blood and urine tests, spinal tap, EMG, MRI, muscle or nerve biopsy, and X-rays. The same with Parkinson’s, there is no cure for ALS. Still, different treatments were made to help the patients cope with the symptoms, slow down disease progression, and avoid other complications. There are various medications that doctors prescribe to treat ALS symptoms; one of those is Riluzole, an FDA-approved drug, which helps slow down the advancement of ALS in some patients.
Parkinson’s and ALS are both very serious matters. These diseases can greatly affect a person’s life, whether he has a job or not. Although diagnosis and treatment to these are still limited, it is important that everyone has a full understanding of how these diseases work. Knowing the causes and the early signs will help to at least detect these earlier. Studies are still being continuously done to raise full awareness and a probable cure to these disorders.