Facts about dying with Parkinson’s
By Sheryl Jedlinski
When diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, many people view it as a death sentence and want to know how many “good” years they have left to live. Here are the facts about dying with Parkinson’s disease:
- Parkinson’s is not fatal; it is not a direct killer like heart attack or stroke. While it does destroy dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain’s substantia nigra, you can lose all the dopamine in this area and still not die.
- People die with and not from Parkinson’s disease, according to the research on this topic. While this sounds like semantics, the distinction is important in understanding that Parkinson’s disease itself is often only a contributing factor in death, but not the direct cause. That honor goes to complications from advanced Parkinson’s symptoms, with pnuemonia leading the way. This is caused by patients’ impaired ability to swallow, which puts them at risk for inhaling food and liquid into their lungs. Similarly impaired mobility and balance increases the likelihood of falling, which can trigger a cascade of life threatening and even fatal injuries.
- There is much you can do to prolong your functionality and longevity. This includes adhering to a regular exercise regimen and proper diet, getting enough sleep, and having regular check-ups to control pre-existing conditions and prevent new medical issues from taking hold. Physical therapy aimed at improving balance and gait training can counteract the increased risk of falling.
- Parkinson’s varies greatly from person to person, making it impossible to predict the exact course it will take for a specific patient. There is no way to know how quickly this chronic disease will progress, how seriously it will affect the body, and what if any complications may develop over time.
- Since Parkinson’s is most common in people older than age 60, they often die of age-related diseases like cancer, heart disease, or stroke before complications of Parkinson’s get to them and in much the same proportion as the general population.
- People who are otherwise healthy when diagnosed tend to live about as long as others in their age group who don’t have Parkinson’s.
- People with Parkinson’s today enjoy a longer life expectancy than ever before thanks to better disease management and the development of personalized plans to improve overall health and prevent complications of Parkinson’s.
As we fight fiercely against death, recalling the words of the poet Dylan Thomas helps us realize the importance of being alive. “Do not go gently into that good night… rage, rage against the dying of the light,”Thomas wrote.