This week is Parkinson's Awareness Week 2016 when Parkinson's UK, the charity for Parkinson's Disease sufferers, their carers and families, seeks to raise awareness of this disease.
Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition which affects one in 500 people in the UK. Sufferers have insufficient amounts of a chemical called dopamine in their brains. Dopamine levels drop when the nerve cells in the brain which produce dopamine start to die. The loss of dopamine makes movements slower and, as the disease progresses, the sufferer loses the ability to move and control their body. Although the majority of Parkinson's sufferers are aged 50 or over, younger people can also have the disease. Currently, there is no cure.
Everyone's experience of Parkinson's is different but the main symptoms are slower movements, tremor and rigidity. Symptoms such as tiredness, constipation, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance and pain are also common. All these symptoms have a profound impact on daily life and, as the disease progresses, many sufferers need increasing amounts of support and care.
The main treatment for Parkinson's is medication. Drug therapies seek to increase the dopamine levels reaching the brain. Patients are often prescribed a combination of different drugs. A key aspect of these drugs is that they must be taken regularly and at specific times during the day. Disruption of a drug regime can cause the health of a Parkinson's sufferer to decline very quickly. Any withdrawal from Parkinson's drugs must be done by tapering the dose and should be conducted under the supervision of a health professional.
One aspect of the disease that can lead to inappropriate care and treatment and can, ultimately, lead to the investigation of a clinical negligence claim, is the inappropriate administration of drugs when a patient is admitted to hospital or to a care home. NHS trusts should now have clinical guidelines for managing patients with Parkinson's. These include: warning staff of the dangers of abrupt withdrawal of Parkinson's medications; and ensuring that treating staff seek early specialist advice, for example from a specialist nurse. Nevertheless, we still see cases where treating staff have failed to appreciate the importance of maintaining regular medication, sometimes with catastrophic results.
The other common aspect of Parkinson's that can lead to inappropriate care is where Parkinson's is combined with dementia. Elderly sufferers of Parkinson's and dementia can be confused and agitated as well as physically unstable. As a result, they can be at high risk of falls and other mishaps. On admission to a hospital or a care home, careful assessment and monitoring is needed to ensure that they remain safe in their new environment. Again, sadly, we receive instructions from the families of elderly patients where the care of their loved one has fallen short in this way.
Camilla Wonnacott, associate in the clinical negligence department, said: "We are currently representing an elderly man who suffers from both Parkinson's and dementia and whose Parkinson's medication was abruptly withdrawn on a number of occasions over a period of several weeks. The result was an irreversible loss of mobility and a considerable decrease in his quality of life."
If you or a member of your family suffers from Parkinson's Disease and has not received appropriate care we would be happy to talk this through with you.