The diagnosis of Young-Onset Parkinson’s disease is the same as Idiopathic, or typical, Parkinson’s disease except for the age of the patient. The average age of PD diagnosis is around 62. When an individual is diagnosed with PD before the age of 50, the disorder is called Young-Onset Parkinson’s disease. Connect with people affected by Young-Onset Parkinson's by joining NPF's online Young-Onset Forum.
What are the common symptoms of Young-Onset PD?
There are some symptoms that are more common in Young-Onset PD patients. The available evidence suggests that PD patients with a younger age at onset have:
- A slower disease progression
- An increased rate of dystonia (sustained abnormal postures, such as turning in or arching of the foot and toes) at onset and during treatment
- A lower rate of dementia
- An increased rate of dyskinesias in response to L-DOPA treatment.
As is the case with older-onset Parkinson’s disease, the speed and severity of the progression of Young-Onset Parkinson’s disease can vary greatly among individuals.
Does genetics play a part in Young-Onset PD?
YES. There are genes that have now been implicated in the cause of a subtype of Young-Onset Parkinson’s disease known as the LRRK-2 gene or Parkin 9 gene. Up to 50% of Young-Onset Parkinson’s patients may have a gene associated as a potential cause.
Research continues to be done to understand the role of genes and environment as potential causes in PD. Theories suggest that genes may play a larger role in young onset and environment may be more significant in idiopathic, or typical, PD. Understanding the roles of environment and genes will ultimately allow us to identify the multiple causes of PD.
Is there such as thing as Juvenile Parkinsonism?
In rare instances, Parkinson’s-like symptoms can appear in children and teenagers. This form of the disorder, called "Juvenile Parkinsonism”, is viewed as a distinct disorder, which often is genetically determined. Juvenile Parkinsonism usually has a different course from typical later-life Parkinson’s disease.
Approximately 10% of the 1 million people with the disease are thought to be below the age of 40.3. Since Parkinson’s disease is still often overlooked as a diagnosis in younger patients, it is thought that the number of cases occurring in individuals below the age of 40 may actually be much higher than the estimated 10% of the population with the disease.
Is medication treatment different for Young-Onset PD?
The medical management of the Young-Onset Parkinson’s disease patient requires an understanding of the significantly greater tendency of this group to develop:
- Dyskinesias or involuntary movements (most commonly dystonia)
- Motor fluctuations when taking levodopa
- When attempting to treat symptoms in the young Parkinson’s disease patient it is important to use levodopa-sparing strategies. These strategies include:
- The use of anticholinergics or amantadine
- As well as substantial use of the dopamine receptor agonists for more potent, symptomatic treatment
- Often these drugs are used in combination
- As the patient, it is in your best interest to seek a physician who has an understanding of the unique treatment of Young-Onset PD. Such a doctor will be able to help you maximize your quality of life.
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