Parkinson’s Disease – MCAT Psychology | MedSchoolCoach

Parkinson's Disease

MCAT Psychology - Chapter 4 - Section 3 - Psychological Disorders - Bases of Psychological Disorders
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Sample MCAT Question - Parkinson's Disease

A patient presenting with a Parkinsonism:

a) may or may not have Parkinson’s.

b) always has Parkinson’s.

c) will only develop motor symptoms of Parkinson’s.

d) will only develop non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s.

A is correct. Parkinsonism refers to the various motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, including tremors, muscular ridigity, and akinesia. Individuals presenting with Parkinsonism may or may not have Parkinson’s. B is incorrect. An individual presenting with Parkinsonism will not always have Parkinson’s. C is incorrect. A person presenting with Parkinsonism and later diagnosed with Parkinson’s will likely develop the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. D is incorrect. A person who presents with Parkinsonism would already have developed the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s.

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Parkinson's Disease for the MCAT

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects one to two percent of the senior population aged 65 and up. Because this disorder is neurodegenerative, this means that patients will typically begin by exhibiting a few symptoms of the disease and, over time, the symptoms will become more severe.. Parkinson’s is a topic of great significance in the field of medicine and for those preparing for the MCAT. After reading this article you’ll have a brief understanding of Parkinson’s disease, its key features, and its impact on the nervous system – all vital topics for the MCAT.

Motor Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

Motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include akinesia, or loss of voluntary movement, and bradykinesia, or slowness of movement, muscular rigidity, tremors, a shuffling gait, flexed posture, and reduced facial expressions. Now, not all Parkinson’s disease patients exhibit all these symptoms. As an example, tremors are often associated with Parkinson’s disease. However, there are some patients with Parkinson’s disease that will never exhibit tremors. A term you may have heard associated with Parkinson’s disease is parkinsonism. Parkinsonism refers to this collection of motor symptoms. You should know that just because a patient has these motor symptoms, or parkinsonism, does not mean that the patient has Parkinson’s disease. In other words, there are multiple causes of these motor symptoms. So, when a patient presents with parkinsonism, what the physician has to do is to gather additional information from the patient and possibly conduct some tests to determine if the patient has Parkinson’s disease or not. 

Non-Motor Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

Non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, and sleep disturbance. This means that Parkinson’s disease is not simply a motor disorder, it also has non-motor symptoms. Regarding the cause of Parkinson’s disease, unfortunately, we don’t know that much. However, it is thought that both genetic and environmental factors are involved, and that’s simply because there are a few patients that have a history of Parkinson’s disease in their family. However, there are also many patients without a family history of the disease. So presumably environmental factors are also involved.

Biology of Parkinson's Disease

Through biomedical research, we are able to learn more about the biological basis of Parkinson’s disease. The loss of automatic movement and the increased need for voluntary control of movement is believed to be due to the loss of dopaminergic neurons in a brain region called the substantia nigra pars compacta, which is part of the basal ganglia. Since this involves the loss of dopaminergic neurons, a common treatment for Parkinson’s disease is dopamine replacement therapy, where patients will receive a combination of drugs, including L-dopa, as well as dopamine receptor agonists. And finally, patients with Parkinson’s disease will have Lewy bodies, which are abnormal aggregates of alpha synuclein protein in their neurons. And this is something that you can see under a microscope by looking at sections of neurons from the patients. And these Lewy bodies are thought to lead to cellular dysfunction and death, which is what leads to the loss of the dopaminergic neurons and the physical symptoms that we observe.


There’s currently a lot more additional research being conducted attempting to find out more about Parkinson’s disease, but for now, this is what you need to know for the MCAT.

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