The first thing to understand when seeking an estimate regarding life expectancy is that the answer is never definite. Each individual is different and there is no formula for determining exactly how quickly a chronic disease will progress, how seriously it will affect the body, or whether additional complications may develop along the way.
Parkinson's Disease is a Progressive Disorder
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a slowly progressive neurodegenerative disorder that primarily affects movement and, in some cases, cognition. Individuals with PD have a somewhat shorter life span compared to healthy individuals of the same age group. Patients usually begin developing the disease around age 60, and many live between 10 and 20 years after being diagnosed. However, a patient’s current age and general health status factor into the accuracy of this estimate.
While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, many patients are only mildly affected and need no treatment for several years after their initial diagnosis. However, PD is both chronic, meaning it persists over a long period of time, and progressive, meaning its symptoms grow worse over time. This progression occurs more quickly in some people than in others.
Pharmaceutical and surgical interventions can help manage some of the symptoms, like bradykinesia (slowness of movement), rigidity, or tremor (shaking), but not much can be done to slow the overall progression of the disease. Over time, shaking, which affects most PD patients, may begin to interfere with daily activities and one’s quality of life.
Parkinson's Disease is not Considered a Fatal Condition
It is important to understand that PD is not considered a fatal condition. As is the case with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, complications and a patient’s comorbid conditions are more life-threatening than PD itself. For example, because PD affects movement, balance and coordination, a patient’s risk of falling increases as the disease progresses. Swallowing difficulty, known as dysphagia, is another complication that can develop at any point throughout one’s journey with PD, and this can cause aspiration pneumonia—a leading cause of death in patients.
Because a person’s overall health is an important factor in how Parkinson’s progresses, lifestyle factors are vitally important for prolonging both functionality and longevity. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, careful management of preexisting conditions and prevention of new medical issues is crucial.
The life expectancy of PD patients has improved over the past decades thanks to medical advances in the management of the disease and the development of a comprehensive approach to patient care. It’s important to work with a well-rounded medical team to understand PD symptoms, explore treatment options and devise a personalized plan for improving one’s overall health and preventing complications.