This month, health professionals across the world marked World Parkinson’s Day on April 11. RSABI, in conjunction with Parkinson’s Scotland, also raised awareness at its recent Health Hut.

According to Parkinson’s UK, one in 37 people in the UK are living with Parkinson’s today. In Scotland, there are 12,900 people living with this condition and the figure is set to increase as the population grows and ages.

These statistics continue to highlight that most people with Parkinson’s are aged 70-79 but the disease can affect all ages and a small percentage of people are being diagnosed under the age of 50.

The Scottish Farmer: RSABI Health Hut at Thainstone last week with representatives from Parkinson's ScotlandRSABI Health Hut at Thainstone last week with representatives from Parkinson's Scotland

These statistics also show that men aged 50-89 are more likely to be diagnosed than women. The reason for this is still being researched but suggestions have been made that it could be due to a combination of biological factors (e.g. hormones or genetics) and lifestyle factors.

Parkinson’s is the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world. It is a very complex, progressive condition which is unique to the person living with it.

People living with Parkinson’s do not have enough of the chemical dopamine in their brain as the cells that make these die.

The Scottish Farmer: Even The Scottish Farmer editor John Sleigh got in on the actionEven The Scottish Farmer editor John Sleigh got in on the action

This chemical is responsible for sending messages between the brain and nervous system which help the brain regulate and co-ordinate movement.

Damage to the nerve cells related to age, genetic and environment factors reduces the amount of dopamine in the brain which can cause the common early symptoms.

Environmental factors which may contribute to Parkinson’s being diagnosed may include exposure to certain pesticides.

Parkinson’s UK states that there have recently been many studies across the world to investigate if there is a connection, but the results have been varied and inconsistent.

The Scottish Farmer: RSABI Health HutRSABI Health Hut

The most common early symptoms of Parkinson’s are muscle tremors, muscle stiffness and slowness of movements. Tremors typically start in the hand before moving to affect the rest of that arm, down the body to the foot on the same side of the body.

Muscle stiffness stops muscles stretching and relaxing which then can lead to issues with cramp and being off balance. Simple tasks can be affected by this such as eating, breathing, and speaking clearly.

Slowness of movement can cause people to walk with short, shuffling steps, have a lack of co-ordination, or even find that their smile is now not as wide as it was.

Unfortunately, these are not the only early symptoms of Parkinson’s as there are over 40 other symptoms which affect both the physical and mental health of the person living with Parkinson’s.

Included in the list of early symptoms that people may notice is that their writing changes. This is due to the changes in the brain which makes movements smaller and less forceful which will make writing smaller, or it gradually gets smaller as they write.

Some of the issues affecting mental health include anxiety and low mood.

People may also experience slight memory problems, which could affect their ability to plan and organise activities or more severe memory problems which may present as personality changes, hallucinations or delusions.

Not everyone will experience all these symptoms at once, but any one of them will affect someone’s ability to function normally and carry out daily tasks including all aspects of farming life.

People living with Parkinson’s have individual experiences of how the condition affects them and what coping mechanisms work for them.

Often their experiences can vary from day to day and even hour to hour.

As Parkinson’s affects individuals differently, the management will be different as well.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s but each of the symptoms highlighted here can be managed with the regular right support from a wide range of specialists – from your GP and neurologists to specialised Parkinson’s nurses.

Please seek further advice from your GP or call Parkinson’s UK (0808 800 0303) or Parkinson’s Scotland (0344 225 3724) if you are experiencing any of these early symptoms or know someone who is, so that you can get the right help as soon as possible.

Parkinson’s UK also provides practical tips and guidance and runs many groups locally, varying from specific exercise classes to offering direct support in the community.

RSABI’s 24-hour helpline (0808 1234 555) is also available and offers emotional, practical and financial support.

Parkinson’s UK hope is that with more understanding of the causes of this condition it is ‘moving closer to finding new treatments’.

Since moving from the family-run mixed arable farm in Braco, Perthshire in 2005, Irene Scott now lives on an arable farm in west Fife with her husband and their two children.

Being involved in agriculture has been a huge part of her life and she is very enthusiastic to support the industry and keep all those involved in the best of health.

When Irene lived in Perthshire, she was a member of her local Young Farmers club and held many committee posts.

As well as helping on the family farm, Irene also worked as a practice nurse in Fife and she works with RSABI, playing a lead role in its highly successful Health Hut Initiative, attending various agricultural events across Scotland. She is also currently working towards becoming a Queen’s Nurse.