Young-Onset Parkinson’s Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Oct 12, 2022

Young-onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD) is a growing subset of people who develop the disease at a younger age, typically between the ages of 21 and 50. According to 2020 data, 3–5% start before age 40. Surprising to many, symptoms of YOPD can start to appear in a person as early as their 20s or 30s.

Journey to Diagnosis

Woman doing research on her computer about her young onset Parkinson's disease

While the symptoms of young-onset Parkinson’s disease are similar to those later in life, the journey to diagnosis can be significantly different.

Younger people may need to see multiple doctors before finally receiving a correct diagnosis. Doctors aren’t necessarily looking for YOPD or have the experience to address it. As a result, physical symptoms can be incorrectly attributed to sports injuries or even stress and anxiety. In such cases, prescribed medications seldom address the underlying condition.

Young-onset Parkinson’s can have a greater impact on a person’s life, as it can alter your relationship with work, family, money, school, and social activities. Check out these helpful tips on next steps after receiving a new diagnosis.

Potential Causes

Parents having a discussion with their daughter about her Young-Onset Parkinson's Disease

The cause of young-onset Parkinson’s disease is largely unknown. However, it’s commonly linked to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, with genetics playing a larger role.

Researchers point to mutations in genes like SNCA, PARK2, PINK1, and LRRK2 as a potential cause or increased risk. So if you have Parkinson’s and an extensive family history of PD, getting tested for these genes is worthwhile to see if it’s likely to be passed on.

On the other hand, environmental factors have not been proven to increase a person’s risk of developing YOPD. It’s best to limit exposure to known toxins, like pesticides and mercury.

Symptoms of YOPD

Closeup view on the shaking hand of a person suffering from Parkinson's disease

The symptoms of Parkinson’s in younger people are similar to those of people older than the age of 50, but there are also major differences. The most common motor symptoms include:

  • Tremors or uncontrollable shaking, especially in the hands or arms
  • Slow movement
  • Rigidity or stiffness in the muscles
  • Impaired balance and coordination
  • Changes in speech or writing
  • Fatigue

Non-motor symptoms include:

Differences Between Young-Onset & Classic PD

The main difference with younger people living with PD is that the progression of the disease is generally slower over time. Other differences include:

  • Less common to experience cognitive issues like dementia
  • More likely to experience dystonia, a neurological condition that causes muscles to contract and spasm involuntarily
  • More likely to experience dyskinesia, a condition characterized by involuntary movements as a side effect of long-term levodopa use

Treatment & Care Options for YOPD

Man doing workouts to try to stay healthy while living with Parkinson's disease

Although there is currently no cure for young-onset Parkinson’s disease, there are various treatment options available that can help improve symptoms and quality of life.

The most common approach is a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. Medications can help to relieve symptoms such as tremors, rigidity, and slowness of movement. The most common are levodopa and dopamine agonists.

Talk to your family to plan for your care and long-term goals. It’s important to help them learn how to be an effective care partner through healthy communication and mutual understanding.

In addition, lifestyle changes such as exercise and diet can help to improve overall fitness and well-being. There is also a growing body of evidence to suggest that social support can play a vital role in managing the condition. Check out PCLA’s support groups to connect with a growing community dedicated to improving the lives of people with PD.

For young people with Parkinson’s disease, it is important to seek a doctor (along with specialists like movement disorder specialists) who can tailor a treatment plan to meet individual needs and goals. Then, with the right support, it’s truly possible to live well with the condition.

Next Steps

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. While there is currently no cure for this degenerative disorder, treatments and healthy practices can help manage the symptoms and improve quality of life.

If you have any questions about YOPD or want to learn more about available treatment options, please feel free to reach out to our PCLA team — we’d be happy to help you navigate through your options and connect you with support groups and events.

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