April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness month and the perfect time to review the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. There are many of them, and it can be hard to tell if the symptoms stand alone or together indicate the early signs of Parkinson’s. No single sign should be the cause for worry. However, if you have more than two of these symptoms it is a good idea to discuss them with your doctor. Here are some of the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
Tremors and shaking: Slight shaking or tremors in different parts of the body can be an early sign of the disease. If you notice this in your finger, hand, thumb, chin, lips or legs, keep track of how often it occurs. It is normal to experience some shaking after exertion like exercise, injury or even medications.
Small Handwriting: Whether you have large or small handwriting doesn’t matter because you have written that way naturally for many years. It is normal for handwriting to change as we age as our fingers get stiff and vision declines. However, if your handwriting has changed suddenly, that may be a sign of Parkinson’s disease. If you notice that the way you write words or the size of the letters have changed, mention it to your doctor.
Loss of smell: Parkinson’s disease may cause your sense of smell to decline. You may have trouble smelling specific things like bananas, dill pickles or licorice. If you have a cold or sinus infection it may interfere with your sense of smell temporarily but it should return once the infection has cleared up.
Trouble Moving or Walking: If you feel stiff and find that it is difficult to move, pay attention to what that feels like specifically. It is normal to feel stiff sometimes and then loosen up as you move. However, it is not normal if your arms don’t swing at your side as you walk or you feel stiffness and pain in your shoulders or hips. Pay attention if people say you look stiff.
Masked Face: A masked face means that you look serious all the time, even when you may not feel that way. If people notice that you have a blank stare, don’t blink your eyes often, or look serious, depressed or mad, talk to your doctor. Looking this way occasionally is normal, but if friends and family are commenting on it that means it is something to discuss with your doctor.
Stooped or Hunched Over: If you have always been a little hunched over this is nothing to worry about. Osteoporosis, injuries and sore muscles can make you hunch over. However, if you are not standing up as straight as you used to, or your friends are telling you that you are leaning or slouching when you stand, make note of it.
If you are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, the first thing you have to do is create a plan for staying as healthy as possible for as long as possible. These are the first important steps you should take:
- Obtain a referral to a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in the brain
- Start a regular exercise program to delay further symptoms
- Talk with family and friends who can provide you with the support you need
- Even if have to build a ‘Long-Distance Caregiver’ team
- Find a social worker who can help you identify support systems you may need and who can help you to navigate the healthcare system