April 11th is World Parkinson’s Day. The primary goal of the holiday is to build awareness of the neurodegenerative condition that affects an estimated 8.5 million people worldwide. It’s also an opportunity to address a few common misconceptions.
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a brain disorder that may cause uncontrollable movements and issues with balance and coordination. While doctors don’t fully understand the causes of the condition, treatment options are available, and many people with PD live full, healthy lives.
Below, we’ll tackle some of the most common myths. To learn how you can spread awareness, visit the World Parkinson’s Day website, which is operated by a global alliance of Parkinson’s organizations from more than 80 countries.
1. “PD only affects older adults.”
Parkinson’s is most common in people over the age of 60, but the disease is not limited to this age group. Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease (YOPD) can occur in people as young as 20 years old. Estimates suggest YOPD affects up to 4% of the one million people in the U.S. with Parkinson’s.
The symptoms between young-onset PD and late-onset PD are similar and include:
- Rigidity of the limbs and torso.
- Postural instability or impaired balance and coordination.
- Bradykinesia (slowness of movement).
- Tremors of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face.
As with all medical conditions, PD affects people in different ways — two patients may present entirely different symptoms. Some of those symptoms may not be visually apparent.
In fact, some people with Parkinson’s disease never experience tremors, bradykinesia or other well-known symptoms.
2. “Web accessibility isn’t important for people with PD.”
Discussions of digital accessibility often focus on people with hearing and vision disabilities. That’s understandable — sensory disabilities directly affect the ways that people experience web content.
However, digital accessibility isn’t just for people who are blind or deaf. By following the best practices of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), content creators can limit many of the barriers that affect people with PD and other disorders that affect motor control:
- WCAG requires keyboard accessibility. Many people use a keyboard alone (with no mouse) to browse the web. This may provide more control than using a mouse — but if a website isn’t fully accessible with a keyboard, some users will be left out.
- WCAG requires websites to use consistent navigation elements. When navigation tools (such as links) appear in a different order from page to page, people may have trouble finding the content they need.
- WCAG requires web pages to offer options for extending or pausing time limits. Many people with PD and other conditions need more time to enter information into forms or carry out other actions; strict time limits can prevent these people from working at their own pace.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of accessibility barriers that affect people with motor and cognitive disabilities. For more info, read: How Do We Perform Accessibility Testing for the Impact of Physical Disabilities?
3. “People with Parkinson’s cannot live normal lives.”
It is absolutely possible for people living with PD to lead healthful lives if they take the proper steps to manage their symptoms effectively.
Exercise has been shown to be beneficial in managing motor skills and other symptoms associated with Parkinson’s Disease while providing additional benefits such as improved mood and quality of life overall.
The actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with PD at the age of 30 but continues to have a successful career in Hollywood, in addition to founding the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
4. “Parkinson’s disease is fatal.”
Unlike heart attack or stroke, the symptoms of PD do not directly cause death, but can increase the risk of factors that can lead to death.
For example, a common symptom of PD is postural instability which can cause a person to become more prone to falls. These falls could potentially cause serious injury that could result in death. PD can also make some people more vulnerable to life-threatening infections such as sepsis.
However, the average life expectancy for someone with Parkinson’s Disease is actually the same, or similar, as those without the disease.
Do Your Part: Discussing Parkinson’s Disease
The Bureau of Internet Access is proud to support World Parkinson’s Day by bringing attention to issues surrounding web accessibility for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Everyone — not just those affected by Parkinson's disease — can join in the effort by actively seeking out accurate information about this condition. For more info, visit the websites of the Parkinson’s Foundation, the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA), or the Michael J. Fox Foundation.