Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder in which vital nerve cells in the brain called neurons malfunction and die. When this happens, a brain chemical called dopamine, which helps to control muscle movements, is greatly reduced. Without enough dopamine, the nerve cells cannot properly send messages, leading to the loss of muscle function which gets worse over time.
According to the National Parkinson Foundation, there are an estimated 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s disease diagnosed each year, adding to the approximately one million people currently living with the condition in the United States. Parkinson’s usually develops after the age of 50, although in some cases, it can occur in younger adults. Men are one-and-a-half times more likely to have Parkinson's than women.
Early warning signs of Parkinson’s
The following symptoms could indicate a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. It is important to talk to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. Your physician may perform diagnostic tests to rule out other disorders that could mimic the signs of Parkinson’s.
Tremor or shaking
This can start as a slight shaking in your finger, thumb, hand, chin, or lip. Shaking can also occur in the legs when you sit or relax.
You may notice a sudden change in the way you write words on a page, such as letter sizes are smaller and the words are crowded together. Sometimes writing does change as you get older due to poor vision or joint stiffness, but this happens gradually. With Parkinson’s, this change has a sudden onset.
Loss of smell
You may notice you have trouble smelling foods like bananas, pickles, or licorice.
You may experience sudden movements, thrashing, kicking, punching, or falling out of bed during sleep.
Trouble moving or walking
As people age, it can be common to experience a feeling of stiffness when walking. If this sensation does not go away after moving, it could be an early warning sign. Other signs include a feeling that your feet seem stuck to the floor; your arms do not swing when you walk; looking stiff when you walk; and a feeling of stiffness or pain in your shoulders or hips.
A soft or low voice
Your voice suddenly becomes soft or hoarse when you speak in a normal tone.
Straining your bowels can be an early sign of Parkinson’s, although there are many other conditions that can cause constipation.
You may develop a blank stare, not blinking your eyes very often or a serious, depressed, or mad look on your face.
Dizziness or fainting
Parkinson’s can cause you to feel dizzy or faint when standing up out of a chair. However, dizziness and fainting could also have other causes, so it is important to share all of your symptoms with your doctor.
Stooping or hunching over
You notice that you seem to be leaning or slouching when you stand.
Living with Parkinson’s
Although there is no known cure for Parkinson’s, there are a number of medications available to help control symptoms. Your physician will determine the most appropriate medication and dosage based on your medical history, symptoms, and stage of the disease.
In addition, speech pathology and occupational and physical therapies can help people with Parkinson’s learn to live with the symptoms of the disease. Private duty home care can help with personal care and housekeeping tasks, enabling those with the disease to avoid facility-based care, and to live life to the fullest in the comfort, safety, and dignity of home. The amount of assistance you may need from home health aides will depend on the severity of your symptoms and the amount of help you currently receive from family caregivers.
To learn more about Parkinson’s disease, visit the National Parkinson Foundation (http://www.parkinson.org/) or The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (http://www.michaeljfox.org/)
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