A Guide to Parkinson’s Disease and Clinical Trials


Parkinson’s disease is a neurogenerative disorder that primarily affects older people (ages 50+) but can also occur in younger adults. This chronic disease significantly impacts a person’s motor system, triggering a wide range of symptoms related to movement and coordination. 

The first signs of Parkinson’s are often subtle such as feelings of weakness or stiffness, a trembling hand, or difficulty with balance. Eventually, these symptoms will worsen and spread as other side effects appear. 

Over the progression of the disease, depression, cognitive issues, and other mental or emotional problems become increasingly likely. 

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Fortunately, there are treatments available to help prevent, minimize, and/or mitigate the side effects of the condition. 

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

Researchers have been unable to pinpoint a precise cause of Parkinson’s disease. This is a complex neurodegenerative disorder, and as such, has many factors involved in its origin and progression. 

Today, most scientists and doctors believe Parkinson’s disease is likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some key factors associated with Parkinson’s include:


Most Parkinson’s cases occur without a clear genetic cause – but a small percentage of cases (around 5-10%) are thought to be triggered by genetic mutations. These mutations can be inherited from one or both parents and may lead to the disease’s early onset, usually before the age of 50. 

In addition to rare mutations, there are genetic risk factors that can increase a person’s chances of developing Parkinson’s. These factors do not guarantee the person will develop the disease, but they do increase the likelihood. 

Environmental Factors

Some evidence suggests that exposure to certain toxins or chemicals may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. These can include pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, and other industrial chemicals. 

Lewy Bodies

Abnormal protein deposits (Lewy bodies) can build up in brain cells. These aggregates are known to disrupt the normal functioning of nerve cells and are therefore thought to contribute to the neurodegeneration seen in Parkinson’s. 

Inflammation and Immune System Involvement

Inflammation and the immune system’s response may play a role in the development and progression of Parkinson’s disease. Some studies found that the immune system mistakenly targeted and attacked healthy brain cells in Parkinson’s disease, resulting in neuronal damage. 
While all of these factors have been implicated in Parkinson’s, none of them fully explain all cases of the disease. That’s why continual research on Parkinson’s and its development is critical in our understanding and treatment of the condition.

Who Develops Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease can affect individuals of all genders, ages, and ethnicities, but it is most common in people over the age of 60. However, some research indicates that Parkinson’s disease could be becoming more prevalent in younger adults.

Additionally, studies suggest that men may be twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s as women – but women have a higher mortality rate and faster disease progression. 

How Common Is Parkinson’s Disease? 

Parkinson’s is one of the most commonly observed neurodegenerative disorders, second only to Alzheimer’s disease. In America, it’s estimated that over 90,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s annually – and many other individuals with the disease may be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. 

As the global population continues to age, the prevalence of Parkinson’s disease is expected to rise. This further highlights the cruciality of ongoing research and efforts to develop effective treatments.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by a range of motor and non-motor symptoms. These can vary in severity and progression from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms include:

Motor Symptoms

A resting tremor is a telltale sign of Parkinson’s. The tremor often starts in one hand, perhaps as a slight shaking or trembling movement, then may spread to the other hand or other limbs.

Those with Parkinson’s may find balance and coordination increasingly difficult, which heightens their risk of falls, particularly as the disease progresses.

People with Parkinson’s may have trouble initiating and completing movements, which results in reduced facial expressions, a shuffling walk, and a decrease in natural arm swinging during movement.

Stiffness and resistance in the muscles can occur in Parkinson’s patients, making movements more challenging and limiting range of motion.

Non-Motor Symptoms

Most people with Parkinson’s disease will experience at least mild cognitive impairment, memory problems, and difficulties with attention, planning, and problem-solving.

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, roughly half of all people with Parkinson’s will experience some form of depression. At least 40% will deal with an anxiety disorder, and an alarming 30% will experience thoughts about suicide at one point. 

Researchers estimate that 2 out of every 3 people with Parkinson’s have had trouble sleeping. This can be due to a range of factors – chemical changes in the brain, medications, mental health challenges, and pain, to name a handful. 

Parkinson’s can lead to changes in voice volume, speech clarity, and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). This can also increase the risk of aspiration in people with the disease. 

When a person’s blood pressure level doesn’t return to normal quickly after standing up, it is referred to as orthostatic hypotension. This happens in about one-third of patients with Parkinson’s disease. It’s less common early on but happens more as the disease progresses.

One of the hallmark symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is diminished facial expressivity or “masked facies.” This refers to the expressionless appearance of individuals with the disorder, which is often caused by a decreased amount of dopamine in the brain, as well as muscle stiffness.

Note: not everyone with Parkinson’s disease will experience all of these symptoms, and the progression of the disease tends to vary widely among individuals. 

Regardless, early diagnosis and management are critical in improving the quality of life for those with Parkinson’s. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, seek medical guidance from a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Match With Parkinson’s Disease Clinical Trials

Have you been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease? You may qualify for a clinical trial near you. At Tandem Clinical Research, we’ll help you match with:

  • Disease-specific studies
  • Research by leading scientists 
  • The latest treatments

How Parkinson’s Disease Is Diagnosed

1. Review Medical History

Most healthcare professionals will start by asking detailed questions about the patient’s medical background, including their family history, type of employment, lifestyle habits, etc. This helps them assess the likelihood of Parkinson’s presence. 

2. Physical Examination

Next, the healthcare provider will perform a neurological examination to assess the patient’s motor skills, reflexes, balance, coordination, and muscle tone. They will also look for physical signs of Parkinson’s, including resting tremors, bradykinesia, and muscle rigidity.

3. Medication

Fortunately, many people with Parkinson’s respond positively to medications. Once a diagnosis has been made, the healthcare provider will determine which medications may help with symptom alleviation and slow the disease’s progression. 

4. Brain Imaging 

Although not always necessary, the healthcare provider may order brain imaging (such as MRI or CT scans) to rule out other structural abnormalities in the brain.

5. Specialist Consultation 

If Parkinson’s disease has been diagnosed, the patient may be referred to a neurologist or movement disorder specialist for a more in-depth evaluation and confirmation.

Potential Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease

There is currently no set treatment or “cure” for Parkinson’s disease. In most cases, prescribed treatment methods aim to alleviate the symptoms or slow the disease’s progression, but they cannot reverse the diagnosis. 

Parkinson’s treatment plans are tailored to each patient based on the severity of their symptoms and other individual factors. Some common treatments for Parkinson’s disease include:


Levodopa is widely considered the most effective medication for Parkinson’s disease. The well-known combined carbidopa-levodopa name-brand formulation is called Sinemet®. Typically, levodopa is administered in pill form to increase dopamine production in the brain and support motor functions.  

This type of medication mimics the effects of dopamine in the brain and can help improve motor symptoms. Dopamine agonists are often used as an alternative or in combination with levodopa, particularly in younger patients or those who struggle with levodopa-related side effects.

Monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B) inhibitors essentially help the brain use dopamine better, which in turn can modestly improve movement symptoms related to Parkinson’s. This kind of medication is often used in tandem with levodopa.

Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors are known to prolong the effect of levodopa by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks it down in the body. These are a relatively new class of Parkinson’s medication and are increasingly used in conjunction with levodopa therapy. 

These medications – such as trihexyphenidyl, benztropine, orphenadrine, procyclidine, and biperiden – can help reduce tremors and stiffness in some individuals with the disease. Anticholinergic drugs were some of the first medications available for Parkinson’s and are still widely used. 

Deep Brain Stimulation

This is a surgical procedure that involves implanting electrodes in specific areas of the brain and connecting them to a pulse generator. Most commonly, deep brain stimulation is thought to help with motor-related symptoms of Parkinson’s, but it may also help with sleep problems and pain. 

Physical Therapy and Exercise

Regularly attending physical therapy and exercising can help Parkinson’s patients improve their mobility, balance, and flexibility. There are many powerful ways to get active with this disorder, including biking, running, yoga, pilates, and weight training. 

Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy

Despite the strong evidence supporting the efficacy of this treatment, only about 14% of Parkinson’s patients include it in their treatment plan. Still, healthcare providers are increasingly recommending speech and occupational therapy to help slow the disease’s progression, assist with movement problems, and improve daily functioning. 

Diet and Nutrition

Some studies suggest that a well-balanced, nutritious diet (perhaps Mediterranean) may benefit individuals with Parkinson’s. Including a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein-rich foods may ease some common Parkinson’s symptoms. 

Note: recommended treatments vary from person to person, and the management of Parkinson’s requires ongoing adjustments and monitoring by healthcare professionals. 

New treatments and research are continually emerging, so patients with Parkinson’s will need to work closely with their healthcare team to ensure they are receiving the best possible care.

Clinical Trials for Parkinson’s Disease

If you live in New York City, New Orleans, or Orlando, Tandem Clinical Research is your go-to resource for clinical trials near you. Reach out to learn about our ongoing research opportunities. 

We might not currently have a cure for Parkinson’s, but our scientists and doctors are continuously studying and testing potential treatments. The more we learn about Parkinson’s and what causes the disease, the better we can become at preventing and treating it. 

If you struggle with Parkinson’s symptoms, we invite you to learn more about contributing to ongoing research. Your involvement matters.

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How to Support Others With Parkinson’s Disease

Living with or supporting someone with Parkinson’s disease isn’t always a straightforward path. As a friend or family member, you may need to offer emotional, practical, and social assistance to help improve your loved one’s quality of life. 

Here are some ways you can support and care for someone with Parkinson’s disease: 

Educate Yourself

First things first: learn about Parkinson’s from reputable websites and other resources. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms, treatment options, and challenges associated with the disease. Not only will this help you better understand your loved one’s experience, but it will also help you offer accurate, productive support and advice. 

Assist with Medical Appointments 

People with Parkinson’s may struggle to manage appointments and get themselves to doctor’s offices. One way you can help is by offering to accompany them to appointments or therapy sessions if needed. You may also want to take notes during the appointments, as it can be challenging for a person with Parkinson’s to remember all the details.

Offer Emotional Support 

As we mentioned earlier, many people with Parkinson’s struggle with anxiety, depression, and a feeling of hopelessness. Sometimes, the best thing you can do to support your loved one is simply to acknowledge their emotions and validate their feelings. Be there when they need a listening ear. 

Help With Daily Activities 

People with Parkinson’s disease may struggle with a range of daily activities – dressing, eating, drinking, managing medications, bathing, driving, etc. The more you can assist with these everyday tasks, the more independence your loved one can maintain. 

Stay Positive 

Maintaining an upbeat outlook on Parkinson’s isn’t easy – there’s no cure, and the disease progresses over time. However, staying positive is one of the most supportive things you can do for your loved one. 

Focus on celebrating each and every achievement, no matter how small. Find moments to laugh together and encourage social interactions, especially with other positive friends and family members. 

Of course, everyone’s experience with Parkinson’s is different. Be sure to directly ask your loved one how you can best support them. Sometimes, a shoulder to lean on is the best form of care you can offer.

Match With Parkinson’s Disease Clinical Trials

If you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, you could be a candidate for ongoing clinical studies. These trials allow researchers to obtain critical information about the disease, which can influence future treatment options. 

Scientists and doctors are studying many aspects of Parkinson’s disease. This includes the assessment of:

  • new treatment possibilities 
  • how genetics and environmental factors increase the risk of Parkinson’s 
  • how the disease develops and progresses

At Tandem Clinical Research, we often conduct Parkinson’s clinical trials. Reach out to learn about our current opportunities for participants.