Parkinson's Disease

What is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a neuro-degenerative condition which occurs when the brain produces insufficient quantities of the chemical dopamine. This causes motor symptoms such as stiffness, slowness of movement and tremor, and non-motor symptoms such as depression, anxiety, lack of smell, fatigue and trouble swallowing. Each person with Parkinson’s will experience a different number and combination of these symptoms.

How will it affect my life?

Parkinson’s is not fatal, and often takes years to progress. Parkinson’s is different for everyone, but often with good managementincluding exercise and medication, Parkinson’s can have little effect on life expectancy. It will however, require lifestyle changes for your individual needs.

What causes Parkinson’s?

This is not known yet, but there is much research being undertaken world wide.

Is there a cure?

At present there is no cure for Parkinson’s, but researchers and scientists are steadily making advancements in understanding the condition, its causes, and how to best treat it.

Who gets Parkinson's?

Over four people million in the world have Parkinson's - more than those affected by multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Motor Neuron combined. The average age of diagnosis is 59, but it can also occur in younger people in their 20's, 30's and 40's. 

What are my treatment options?

A combination of exercise and drug treatments can be used to help control the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

What part does surgical treatment play in Parkinson's?

Surgery is not suitable for everyone with Parkinson's. It is usually advised when medication is not of assistance or when there have been severe side effects from medication.

What support can my family and I receive?

Parkinson’s New Zealand provides support and information to people with Parkinson’s, their carers, families and health professionals. We provide help in a variety of ways:

Divisions and Community Educators

Parkinson’s New Zealand has 20 divisions and branches nationwide, as well as a National Office. Each division provides one or moreCommunity Educators who are trained to help you and your family with your Parkinson’s journey. They can provide support, information and advocacy through home visits or telephone calls.

Community Educators and divisions can also provide services to your carers and families, and can meet with your family to answer any questions.

Andy McDowell's inspiring story about living with Parkinson's disease

Andy McDowell is a 48-year-old marketing consultant, husband and father to two young girls. He has early onset Parkinson’s disease, which impacts every aspect of his life. Andy is about to undergo Deep Brain Stimulation. When switched on, wires deeply embedded in Andy’s brain could help him regain some control of his body.

Awe-inspiring, witty and powerful boxing champion Muhammed Ali and his battle with Parkinson’s disease


Boxing legend Muhammad Ali died in 2016 at age 74, after a lengthy battle against Parkinson's disease. Ali was diagnosed with the disease in 1984, three years following his retirement.

In 1980, ten weeks before Ali's match against Larry Holmes, a team of doctors at the Mayo Clinic submitted a medical report to the Nevada State Athletic Commission showing that there was a small hole in the outer layer of Ali’s brain. They noted that the legendary boxer reported a tingling sensation in his hands and slurred speech. He retired permanently in 1981.

Ali was instrumental in raising awareness of Parkinson's Disease. In 1997, he and his wife co-founded the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona, to provide comprehensive care for those living with the disease.  

Did boxing cause Muhammad Ali’s Parkinson’s disease?

Muhammad Ali lived with Parkinson's disease for three decades before his death on Friday (June 3) at the age of 74, and many have wondered whether Ali's boxing career caused him to develop the neurological disorder.

Although it's likely that frequent head injuries played a role in the boxer's Parkinson's disease, certain genes may have also increased his susceptibility to the disease.

In patients with Parkinson's disease, the brain cells that produce a chemical called dopamine start to die off. Because dopamine is important for the control of muscle movement, Parkinson's patients experience symptoms such as tremors, slowed movements and muscle stiffness.

In most cases, the exact reason that the dopamine-producing cells start to die is not known, However certain genes appear to increase people's risk of developing the disease at a relatively young age. For this reason, with the younger onset of Parkinson’s disease, researchers are more suspicious of the involvement of genes.

Still, head trauma has also been linked with Parkinson's disease. In a 2013 review study, researchers found that people with head trauma that resulted in a concussion were 57 percent more likely to develop Parkinson's disease, than people who never experienced such head trauma.

Head injuries can cause inflammation in the brain, which may lead to changes in cells and brain structures that contribute to Parkinson's disease.

And injuries that specifically damage the part of the brain that contains dopamine-producing cells, called the substantia nigra, can also lead to Parkinson's disease.