TORONTO — Canada now has a set of national guidelines aimed at establishing a consistent standard for diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease across the country.
The guidelines, developed by neurologists and movement disorder specialists, are designed to provide information and advice to family physicians and other health-care professionals, with the goal of improving care for people with the progressive neurological disease.
“Most Canadians with Parkinson’s do not attend specialized Parkinson’s or movement disorders clinics,” said guidelines editor Dr. David Grimes, director of the Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders clinic at the Ottawa Hospital.
“A tool was needed so that all health-care providers who treat people with Parkinson’s in Canada have a clear idea on how best to help individuals manage their disease.
“The guidelines are meant to improve the standard of care and access to care for people with Parkinson’s in all regions of Canada.”
Joyce Gordon, president and CEO of Parkinson Society Canada, said she believes the guidelines will result in earlier diagnosis, better treatment and management of symptoms, and an improved quality of life for people with the disease.
An estimated 100,000 Canadians have Parkinson’s, which occurs most commonly in people over age 65, but can develop at earlier ages. Actor Michael J. Fox, for instance, was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s in 1991 at age 30.
The incurable disease, which results from a reduction of dopamine in the brain, is marked by tremor, slow movements, halting gait and speech problems. But people with Parkinson’s may also have less obvious symptoms — among them depression, cognitive deficits, difficulty swallowing and gastrointestinal disorders.
While patients should be seen by a specialist to at least confirm the diagnosis, it isn’t always possible for them to see neurologists for regular followup care as the disease progresses, said Grimes.
And there are too few doctors specializing in the movement disorder and most are located in urban centres, she added.