Parkinson’s disease is mostly diagnosed in people over the age of 60. However, some people develop the disease at younger ages. Some doctors consider anyone diagnosed with PD under the age of 55 to have young-onset Parkinson’s disease, while other doctors would classify YOPD under the age of 50. A person under the age of 21 is diagnosed with Juvenile Onset Parkinson’s.
Causes of Young-Onset Parkinson’s disease
The exact cause of PD is not known, although scientists believe it results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The genetic factors play a larger role in young-onset PD, and researchers have found certain genetic mutations that are linked to a higher risk of developing young-onset PD, are PRKN, SNCA, Parkin (Park2), PINK1 (Park6), and LRRK2.
While genetic testing is available, not everyone who has these genetic mutations develops PD, and the presence of these genetic mutations does not impact treatment decisions. Researchers continue to study the impact of genetic and external factors in the development of PD.
Unique characteristics of young-onset Parkinson’s disease
Although Parkinson’s is similar among people of all ages, those with young-onset PD generally have slower disease progression. They also tend to experience more side effects from dopaminergic medications and are more likely to have dyskinesias in response to the drug levodopa. Dyskinesias are abnormal, involuntary movements. Other problems associated with PD, such as memory loss, confusion, and problems with balance tend to occur less often in people with young-onset Parkinson’s. However, as with PD in older patients, the disease severity and symptoms vary from person to person.
Symptoms of Young-Onset Parkinson’s disease
The same symptoms that are seen in older patients with PD are seen in young-onset PD, including:
• Tremor of the hands, arms, legs, or face
• Rigidity of the limbs and trunk
• Slowness of movement
• Gradual loss of spontaneous movement (bradykinesia)
• Impaired balance
• Lack of coordination
• Sleep disturbances
• Impaired memory or thinking
• Difficulties with urination or constipation
• Reduced sense of smell
In general, people with young-onset PD less frequently have memory loss, confusion, and balance difficulties. They tend to experience more cramping and abnormal postures, such as the arching of the foot, and depression. Due to PD mostly known to as an older person’s disease younger people often struggle to get a diagnosis.
Treatment for young-onset Parkinson’s disease
Young-onset PD people respond well to physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and exercise to alleviate motor symptoms.
Neurologists often use medications for people with YOPD, including monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) inhibitors and dopamine agonists. The use of Levadopa (Senimet) may also be considered.
Young Parkinson’s Ireland – YPI
A branch of the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland that offers information and support from people who understand and who know what it is like living with Young Onset Parkinson’s.