Parkinson's disease is one of the most common adult neurological disorders, affecting an estimated 10 million adults globally. Parkinson’s affects everyone differently; symptoms generally develop slowly over years, manifesting themselves differently from one person to the next. To be able to identify when it is time to get help, it can be helpful to understand the signs and symptoms, what should be a cause for concern or not, what to expect through each stage of the process, and how to treat Parkinson’s. At any point in the process, Home Care Assistance caregivers can assist you or a loved one with Parkinson’s needs, and are able to provide support through the care process.
10 Signs and Symptoms of Parkinson’s
There are many signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, so it can be hard to tell if these symptoms alone, or together, indicate the early signs of Parkinson’s. It’s important to note that many of these symptoms can be caused by other common health issues. No single symptom should be cause for concern, but if you or a loved one are experiencing many of these symptoms, it is best to consult a medical professional.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease which may play a role in the development of dementia:
- 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 and our fingers get stiff and vision declines. However, if your handwriting has changed suddenly, that may be a sign of Parkinson’s called micrographia. 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 if you feel stiffness and pain in your shoulders or hips. People sometimes say their feet seem “stuck to the floor.” Slowness of movements (bradykinesia) is a related symptom, so 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.
- Stooping or hunching 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.
- Trouble sleeping. Insomnia is often a result of many other emotional and physical issues but may indicate Parkinson’s, especially if the troubled sleeping involves thrashing around or sudden movements in the middle of the night that didn’t previously occur.
- Dizziness or fainting. Balance problems and feeling dizzy or faint can also be early indicators of Parkinson’s. Low blood pressure, which can cause this dizzy feeling, is often linked to Parkinson’s.
- Constipation. This can be an early sign of Parkinson's disease, but may also be a result of dehydration, lack of fiber in the diet, or certain medications.
- Changes in voice. A soft or low voice, and/or sounding hoarse all the time, may also be an early indicator of Parkinson’s.
Again, one of these symptoms alone is not enough to prompt concern about Parkinson’s but put them together and it warrants a visit to the doctor.
Common Parkinson’s Misconceptions
Parkinson’s disease is often misunderstood. It is important to be aware of the facts so that you can optimize care and maximize quality of life.
Here are some common misconceptions about Parkinson’s:
Myth: Parkinson’s only affects movement.
Fact: Parkinson’s disease affects multiple areas of the brain and thus results in many symptoms. Non-motor symptoms can include impaired sense of smell, sleep disorders, cognitive difficulties, constipation/ bladder problems, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, pain, anxiety, and depression.
Myth: Parkinson's only affects older people.
Fact: While the majority of patients develop the condition in their fifties or early sixties, about 10% of people are diagnosed before age 40.
Myth: All individuals with Parkinson’s disease have tremors.
Fact: While a tremor is the most recognized symptom of Parkinson’s disease, approximately 30% of those with Parkinson’s never experience any tremors.
Myth: Parkinson’s disease can “flare-up” unexpectedly.
Fact: Although symptoms may fluctuate throughout the day, the progression of the disease is very slow. If symptoms worsen over days or weeks, infections, medication side effects, stress or another medical problem may be to blame.
Myth: Only medical intervention helps.
Fact: Lifestyle modifications, including regular exercise, muscle strengthening therapies, and a healthy diet, can reduce the severity of symptoms and improve quality of life. A study published in Geriatrics and Gerontology International found that Parkinson's patients who exercised for one hour every week reported improvements in daily activities while their non-active counterparts did not.
Myth: Parkinson’s is genetic.
Fact: Only 5-10 percent of cases have a true genetic link. The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown. While genetics may play a role, many researchers also believe that environmental factors impact risk.
Myth: Parkinson’s disease is fatal.
Fact: Parkinson’s disease itself will not cause death. Swallowing problems make those living with the disease more prone to respiratory infections like pneumonia, but many people never experience this and can live for decades after diagnosis.
Being able to discern between the facts and myths of Parkinson’s will help you more easily identify when it is time to get help, and what should and should not be a cause for concern.
Understanding the Five Stages of Parkinson’s
Understanding what to expect in each stage of Parkinson’s will help you or your loved one prepare for what is to come after a diagnosis.
In Stage One, a person’s symptoms are mild and do not interfere dramatically with daily activities. Tremor and movement symptoms tend to occur on just one side of the body. Changes in posture, walking and facial expressions will begin to be noticed.
In Stage Two, symptoms start to progress. Tremor, rigidity, and other movement issues will now affect both sides of the body. Walking problems and poor posture are more apparent. A person is still able to live alone, but daily tasks are more difficult and take longer to accomplish.
Stage Three is considered the “mid-stage” of the condition with loss of balance and slowness of movements being the hallmarks. Falls are more common, and while a person can still live a fully independent life, symptoms begin to impair the ability to accomplish daily activities with ease, such as getting dressed.
In Stage Four, symptoms become more severe and limiting. A person may still be able to stand without assistance, but movement may require a walker. Most likely a person will need help with most activities associated with daily living and should not be living alone.
Stage Five of the disease is the most advanced and debilitating stage. Symptoms become more severe and limiting. Stiffness in the legs may make it impossible to stand or walk; one may be confined to a wheelchair, and in the end, totally bedridden. A person living alone will require 24-hour assistance at this stage, as they will not be able to feed or bathe themselves. At this stage, a person may also experience hallucinations and delusions.
Wherever you may be in this process, consider knowing your options for help at any stage. Hiring an in home caregiver can help with day-to-day activities for your loved one during the beginning and with more complex needs during the later stages.
How to Treat Parkinson’s Disease
The good news is that while there is no “cure”, Parkinson’s is a highly treatable condition, especially in the early stages. With proper diagnosis and treatment, many Parkinson’s patients continue to lead productive, self-sufficient lives for many years.
There is no standard treatment for Parkinson’s disease; treatment for each person is based on his or her symptoms. Treatments include medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes. Dietary and nutritional changes can have a huge impact on health and comfort, as can getting more rest, better sleep, fresh air, and appropriate levels of exercise.
Emotional well-being is as important as physical wellness. People with Parkinson’s should enlist support from family, friends, and colleagues and stay active and engaged to the extent it is possible.
Though none of the many Parkinson’s medications can reverse the effects of the disease, they can effectively mitigate and manage the symptoms for long periods of time in some instances. Discovering the right medications, complementary therapies, professional and personal support, as well as ways to stay independent can enhance the quality of life for Parkinson’s patients. Trying something like music therapy can be a great way to help those with Parkinson’s build strength while doing something they enjoy.
There are many ways to maintain a good quality of life when living with Parkinson’s. There is most likely a Parkinson’s Foundation in your area that can provide support and important resources, including networking groups and guidance on how to forge a path forward if someone lives alone without a primary caregiver. Home Care Assistance is here and available to support you or a loved one’s care needs, and can create a care plan specific to a condition such as Parkinson’s to help you or a loved one live a happy and healthy life.