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Thirty-four-year-old Ravishankar Tomar was climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying life when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Needless to say, the news was a bolt from the blue. On the other hand, when 38-year-old Deepa Radhakrishnan, editor at a publishing house, went to her doctor with the tremors in her left hand, she was reassured and sent back. The relief didn't last long and she was later diagnosed with Parkinson's.
While the condition is generally associated with the elderly, physicians say they have begun to notice that it is increasingly showing up in people in their thirties, and sometimes, even those in teenage years also report its symptoms. Parkinson's disease belongs to a group of conditions called motor system disorders, caused by a loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. The onset is slow and the symptoms may go unnoticed for several years. The four primary symptoms being tremors, or trembling hands, arms, legs, jaw and face; stiffness of the limbs and trunk; slowness of movement; and impaired balance and coordination. In the advanced stages, patients may have difficulty walking, talking or completing simple tasks.
Dr Milind Sankhe, consultant neurosurgeon, Hinduja Hospital, says he has seen a rise in young patients of Parkinson's disease in recent years. According to a research report published in New York, there is a fine distinction between Youth Onset Parkinson's Disease, or diagnosis before 50 years of age, and General Onset Parkinson's Disease, or diagnosis after 50. The data shows that people with Youth Onset Parkinson's experience a faster progression of the disease, more severe psychological effects and a tendency toward rejection of medications.
Sankhe, who has studied both groups, says there are significant differences between the course of the disease in younger sufferers and in the elderly. "Younger patients seem to experience less dementia, but suffer more pronounced side effects from medicines that include confusion, hallucinations, excessive movement and a 'writhing, irregular' motion called dyskinesias," he says, adding that younger patients can also experience dystonia — a prolonged abnormal posture.