New Jersey has one of the highest rates in the nation of Parkinson's disease — a neuro-degenerative disorder, typically affecting residents between ages 60 and 70 years old.

Dr. Elana Clar, a neurologist at North Jersey Brain and Spine, said the disease affects more than 22,000 people in New Jersey, or approximately 1,600 patients for every 100,000 individuals. That puts New Jersey in seventh place among the United States for prevalence of the disease.

She said it is possible to live a good quality of life with Parkinson's, which is why it is so important to have resources at hand — a medical team, the right nutrition, exercise and therapy programs.

"Awareness and education are important to destigmatize the disease and give people living with PD the confidence that they can still have a fulfilling life," Clar said.

Research is ongoing. There are studies investigating the connection between the gut and the brain. There are studies looking at genetic mutation that increase the risk of developing Parkinson's.

Parkinson's symptoms develop slowly over many years. Clar said people with the disease may start to notice they are slowing down. They may have limb rigidity, tremors and some balance problems. While the cause is unknown, Clar said the symptoms are connected to the loss of dopamine. Although there is no cure, she said there are many good treatment options including various medication and surgery.

Clar said Parkinson's does target certain groups of people. While the average age of diagnosis is between 60 and 70 years old, the prevalence increases with every passing decade. Approximately 4% of patients are diagnosed with Parkinson's by the age of 50.

Actor Michael J. Fox. was diagnosed with Parkinson's in his late 20s —  which is highly unusual, but Clar said he is doing remarkably well now at age 58.

"I think it's critical to have coordination of care between your medical practitioners and being an advocate for living well, for eating right, for exercising and regularly participating in physical, occupational and speech therapy," Clar.

Clar said one of her colleagues in Hackensack is working on a groundbreaking study called "Restore" — involving research into a new surgical intervention that may help patients produce natural dopamine, a chemical in the brain critical for movement and missing in someone with Parkinson's. If their bodies can produce more dopamine, patients may require less medication. She said recruits are needed for this study, and those who may be eligible can call 201-342-2550 to inquire about it.

On Saturday, Clar will discuss community resources for Parkinson's Disease at the "Be Stronger, Live Longer" event at the Teaneck Marriott in Teaneck. She will co-present with therapists from Fox Home Rehabilitation Services to share the latest research in nutrition, exercise and various therapy programs. There will be opportunities to meet representatives from the Parkinson's Foundation and American Parkinson Disease Association. The event is free.

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