Circumstances and events that challenge the body’s physical and emotional systems. The source of stress can be external, such as the pressures of everyday life. Stress also can be internal, such as the effects of disease. Stress worsens the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Physiology of Stress
The body’s stress response mechanisms are primitive, designed to give the body the resources it needs to fight or flee a life-or-death kind of response. When the body perceives stress, a number of physiological events immediately take place: Blood pressure rises, blood peripheral vessels constrict to move blood to vital organs and to the large skeletal muscles, heart rate and breathing increase. The autonomic nervous system initiates these actions, stimulating the release of various hormones. Key among them is epinephrine, which functions as a neurotransmITter in the brain and both a neurotransmitter and a hormone in the rest of the body. Its increased peripheral circulation heightens muscle activity.
Changes take place at the cell level, preparing tissues to draw more or to conserve energy, depending on their roles. The stomach, for example, slows its activities and the heart boosts its functions. In the normal scheme of things, stress boosts body readiness, the body responds to remove the body from the circumstance causing the stress, and the body returns to normal functions. When the stress is frequent or continual, the body does not have a chance to return to normal and instead remains in a state of heightened readiness. Eventually this state alters body mechanisms.
Many factors create physical stress to the body. Exposure to toxins and chemicals causes changes in cell functions, sometimes damaging cells and tissues over time. Scientists believe that such long-term stress contributes to Parkinson’s disease. Beyond a certain point cells are not able to protect themselves or to recover from damage to their structures or functions, and they die. Genetic defects also can cause physical stress to cells, causing changes in them that result in illness. Researchers believe the tau deposits characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease and the synuclein deposits (lewy bodies) characteristic of Parkinson’s disease develop as a result of genetic instructions gone awry. These deposits “clog” cells, preventing them from carrying out their normal functions.
Continued stress affects emotional stability and well-being. The body’s stress reactions further alter the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, contributing to conditions such as anxiety and depression. When these conditions already are present in the person with Parkinson’s, stressful situations often aggravate and exacerbate them. Emotional stress may take the form of anger, frustration, sadness, or worry and often disrupts everyday life. For the person with Parkinson’s emotional stress intensifies symptoms. Emotional stress can be more wearing than physical stress, as its causes often are harder to identify and isolate.
Parkinson’s Disease and Stress
People with Parkinson’s deal with both physical and emotional stress. The disease takes an enormous toll on the body’s structures and functions, as neuro-muscular degeneration and the resulting symptoms change nearly every aspect of the entire body. Eventually the effect is cascading. Recent research suggests that the dopamine depletion also begins to affect peripheral body systems such as the heart and blood vessels, altering the numbers of epinephrine receptors in the cells of their tissues and changing the way these organs respond to the body’s biochemical needs. At present the most effective means of delaying these changes is effective control of symptoms through anti-parkinson’s medications.
Caregivers and Stress
Just as the person with Parkinson’s may feel there is no escape from the disease’s physical symptoms, the caregiver often feels confined by the circumstances of the loved one’s needs. It is important that caregivers recognize the extent to which stress affects them and take measures to relieve stress. This process includes using stress reduction techniques and trying to establish ways to be relieved of the demands of care-giving, even for a short time, on a regular basis.