Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, just behind Alzheimer’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is characterized by specific clinical symptoms including rigidity (stiffness), slowness of movement, unsteadiness (gait imbalance) and tremor. For the accurate diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease to be made, a patient needs to have 3 of the 4 major symptoms of the disorder. Each patient with Parkinson’s disease is different and may have differing degrees of each component of Parkinsonism. Not all patients with Parkinson’s disease have tremor. Some may have more instability of gait, shuffling or slowness of movement. There are several medications available that neurologists can use to treat Parkinson patients to alleviate their Parkinson symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. Unfortunately, there is a down side to this treatment. Patients who have been on Sinemet for a few years tend to develop motor fluctuations. Motor fluctuations include end-of-dose wearing off, where their functional abilities deteriorate before the next dose of medication is due. Other motor fluctuations include freezing and off time.
Parkinson freezing is simply when a patient becomes “stuck” meaning they cannot move. This occurs more frequently when going through doorways, stepping up onto a curb or stair or when getting up to start walking. Freezing can also occur first thing in the morning, just when getting up out of bed. Freezing episodes can last for a second up to a few minutes. It is the goal of every Parkinson’s disease neurologist to minimize a patient’s amount of freezing, through various medications and dosing schedule changes. Off time can occur in two settings: one is predictable, usually at the end of the dosing interval but the other occurs randomly, without warning. These sudden off time events are more problematic as they tend not to respond as well to medication changes. Off time is troublesome for the patient and caregiver. Affected patients become virtually immobile, essentially frozen in place. There are different degrees of off time, but in all cases, the patient’s mobility and ability to function are severely impaired. Off time may last minutes to hours. For those patients with short duration off time, additional medication or shorter dosing intervals usually will help. Off time may also occur first thing in the morning when waking up. Even if Parkinson patients take their medications, it may be an hour or more before they are functioning normally. For patients with prolonged off times, usually greater than 45 minutes, there is treatment.
Apokyn (apomorphine) is a self administered injectable medication that rapidly relieves off time. Its duration of action is generally less than 2 hours. This is an ideal medication for patients with one or multiple daily freezing episodes. For those affected patients, Apokyn can literally give them their lives back, particularly when more waking hours are spent in the “off time” than in “on time.” For a patient or caregiver to administer Apokyn, some training is required. This is covered by the drug manufacturer and by Medicare. Side effects can include a drop in blood pressure, lightheadedness, nausea or vomiting. When initially starting a patient on Apokyn, medication to prevent nausea is given first. After being on the Apokyn for a few weeks, patients frequently can stop the antinausea medication.
If you are a patient or caregiver and feel that Apokyn may be of benefit, contact your neurologist or Parkinson disease specialist for more information. An excellent information package, with DVD, is available at no cost. The first step is to make the call to improve your quality of life. For more information, visit the website for Dr. Kassicieh at: www.DrKassicieh.com.