Young-onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD) occurs in people younger than 50 years of age. Most people with idiopathic, or typical, PD develop symptoms at 50 years of age or older.
YOPD affects about four percent of the one million people with PD in the U.S. Symptoms are similar to late onset PD but it is important to understand the challenges YOPD individuals often face at a financial, family and employment levels.
In rare instances, Parkinson's-like symptoms can appear in children and teenagers. This form of the disorder is called juvenile Parkinsonism and is often associated with specific, high-PD risk genetic mutations.
How is young-onset PD different?
People diagnosed with YOPD have a more frequent family history of Parkinson’s disease and a longer survival. People living with young-onset PD may experience:
- Slower progression of PD symptoms over time, staying functional and cognitively intact for longer duration
- Less frequent cognitive problems such as dementia
- More side effects from dopaminergic medications, such as more frequent dyskinesias (involuntary body movements)
- Earlier and more frequent dystonias (cramping and abnormal postures) such as arching of the foot
Why is distinguishing young-onset Parkinson's important?
Socially, people who are affected by PD at a younger age experience the disease differently — they may be at a different stage of their career and often have less time to engage in their own care. They may also have children or are planning to have children and have questions regarding passing on PD genes.
Medically, doctors tailor treatment when it is a younger person with PD. The younger you are, the more likely the disease is genetic. Your care team may offer genetic testing or counseling. Younger brains also have higher neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to grow and change response to therapy) potential which allows the brain to handle and respond to disease and therapy differently.
Navigating YOPD After Diagnosis
While a diagnosis can be disruptive and unexpected, it doesn’t have to stop you from reaching your goals. When you are ready, think about your current family and career responsibilities, and set up a new long-term plan. Take one step at a time as you move toward achieving your priorities.
Therapy and Treatment
When it comes to medical treatment, people with YOPD have a significantly greater risk of developing the following:
- Dyskinesias (involuntary movements) and dystonias (cramping and abnormal postures), sometimes as a side effect of carbidopa/levodopa (the drug prescribed most often to treat Parkinson’s)
- Motor fluctuations when taking levodopa
Each person’s treatment is unique and can require fine adjustments of multiple medications. Deep brain stimulation remains a surgical option for people with young-onset PD.
Page reviewed by Dr. Jun Yu, Movement Disorders Fellow at the University of Florida, a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence.