Vascular Parkinsonism is an illness typified by an involuntary tremor in the limbs, difficulty in initiating and controlling voluntary movement, and changes in the mood and levels of activity of the patient. In the US and Europe, the first symptoms of the disease usually occur between the ages of 55 and 65. The majority of patients are over 65, and men are more susceptible to the illness than women. A diagnosis often follows when a relative or close colleague of the patient observes him or her with an immobile facial expression and/or having difficulty in taking normal walking steps. These symptoms may be accompanied by excessive sweating, impaired memory and depression. It is important to stress that the patient may not suffer from these symptoms all of the time, that on a “good” day, the patient goes about normally.
The illness is slowly progressive, that is, the average patient can live between fifteen and twenty years following diagnosis. The reason for this wide variation in lifespan is because of the many variables that come into play during this progression. For example, a patient may develop dementia, Alzheimer’s or another degenerative disease in tandem with vascular Parkinsonism. Here, it is important to note that the illness should not be confused with dementia; patients with the vascular illness only suffer cognitive decline in its later stages. The patient can take a number of steps to slow its progression considerably.
The brain is a network of neural tissue, that is, bundles of billions of nerve cells that are essential for the functioning of the physical body, and the efficiency of the cognitive, learning and memory processes. The neural systems are fed by the same network of arteries and veins that deliver blood to and take it away from the other organs of the body. However, as the body ages, changes occur that renders this network of blood vessels less efficient. These changes include hardening of the arteries due to high blood pressure, and “arteriosclerosis” or fatty material building up in the arterial walls. All of these conditions put the patient at risk of stroke, since they prevent blood travelling to vital areas of the brain. Cerebral scans of patients with vascular Parkinsonism symptoms often reveal evidence of strokes – in certain cases, many strokes – in the basal ganglia, a mass of neurones in the base of the forebrain.
The basal ganglia is connected to the central nervous system, which explains why vascular Parkinsonism affects the movement of the patient. Though the tremors of the patient are similar to those of a patient with Parkinson’s disease, this latter disease affects a different area of the brain. This explains why drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease such as L-dopa and L-threo-dops have shown but limited success in treating the vascular illness. Instead, therapies that improve the health of the brain are known to slow the progress of vascular Parkinsonism. Since the disease stems from the conditions that lead to the patient suffering strokes, the therapies that reduce the risk of these attacks lead to improved quality of life for the vascular patient. These steps include:
As with all conditions concerning the brain, it is important that the patient stays physically active. Here, a difficulty presents itself. Since tremoring makes the patient more susceptible to falls, it is vital that he or she exercises only under supervision. This is important; a fall that renders the patient bed-bound makes him or her prone to complications that may hasten the end of life. These complications include infections, bed sores, and pneumonia due to improper drainage of the lungs. In general, the lifespan of the vascular Parkinsonism patient will depend on the quality of care that he or she receives following diagnosis.