Parkinson’s disease in seniors is both progressive and irreversible. However, that doesn’t mean caregivers and loved ones struggling with Parkinson’s are without treatment resources and therapies. In fact, there are several different medications that can help to treat and control the symptoms and side effects of this debilitating disease.
Medications Making a Difference
Many years ago, there were very few medications available that truly helped to improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Thanks to the rapid advancement of pharmacology, seniors have quite a few medications to choose from these days. As a matter of fact, these medications are so effective, surgical intervention is only a viable option after each medication has been tried, adjusted and given an adequate amount of time to work.
One thing senior caregivers should keep in mind, however, is that there are limits to the total effectiveness of Parkinson’s medications. Signs and symptoms of the disease will likely remain, although certainly not as prominent or disabling. Scientists continue to look for better and more aggressive ways to treat this disease. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three types of popular and reliable Parkinson’s medications.
The first, and most regularly used, group of Parkinson’s medications is levodopa, also known as L-dopa. This drug helps to increase the level of dopamine in the brain. Levodopa is a chemical found naturally in both plants and animals. Nerve cells in the body rely on levodopa to make dopamine. Supplying the body with extra levodopa helps to naturally replenish a senior’s rapidly dwindling supply of dopamine.
Levodopa is most effective during the early stages of the disease. Seniors taking this drug could see a notable reduction in the number and severity of tremors, along with muscle rigidity. The drug does not help treat problems with balance or non-motor symptoms. If taken early enough, levodopa can help seniors to live a relatively normal and productive life.
Direct Dopamine Agonists
Direct dopamine agonist medications are able to take on the role of natural dopamine in the brain. They can be used in both the early and late stages of Parkinson’s disease, especially if a senior needs a longer acting dopamine effect. The drawback is that these medications can cause confusion in seniors.
Seniors with Parkinson’s often benefit from the prolonged presence of dopamine. Doctors often prescribe MAO-B inhibitors or COMT inhibitors for this purpose, as both medications work to slow the breakdown of dopamine in the brain, thereby reducing the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
MAO-B inhibitors are drugs that slow down the enzyme monoamine oxidase B, or MAO-B, which breaks down dopamine in the brain. MAO-B inhibitors cause dopamine to build up in surviving nerve cells, thereby reducing symptoms of Parkinson’s.
One MAO-B inhibitor, rasagiline, may be used alone or in combination with other medication to treat Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
COMT, which stands for catechol-O-methyltransferase, is another enzyme that helps to break down dopamine. COMT inhibitors prolong the effects of levodopa by preventing the breakdown of dopamine. They can decrease the duration of “off” periods, and they usually make it possible to reduce the person’s dose of levodopa.
- Amantadine is an old antiviral drug that can help reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s and dyskinesias caused by levodopa. It is often used alone in the early stages of the disease, and again in later stages to treat dyskinesias.
- Anticholinergics decrease the activity of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and help to reduce tremors and muscle rigidity.
When recommending a course of treatment, a doctor will tailor therapy to the person’s particular condition. Since no two people react the same way to a given drug, it may take time and patience to get the dose just right. Even then, symptoms may not go away completely.
Medications for Non-Motor Symptoms
Doctors may prescribe a variety of medications to treat the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as depression and anxiety. Hallucinations, delusions, and other psychotic symptoms may be caused by some drugs prescribed for Parkinson’s. Therefore, reducing or stopping those medications may reduce these symptoms of psychosis. Various treatment options, including medications, also are available to treat orthostatic hypotension, the sudden drop in blood pressure that occurs upon standing.