The holiday season brought more families together again after an extended period of self-isolation and quarantine.
Older relatives you may not have seen in a while may exhibit new or unusual symptoms that indicate early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is the second most common type of neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s, with roughly one million Americans being affected.
Its onset usually occurs in people over the age of 60. It results in a decreased ability to control the body’s muscles, as well as affects the brain’s cognition and a person’s behavior.
There isn’t a single test to accurately diagnose Parkinson’s disease, it’s important for families to look out for the five early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. They should be evaluated by a neurologist immediately.
Luckily, today there are more treatment options available so that those living with Parkinson’s can live a longer and happier life.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a lifelong neurodegenerative disease that affects the body’s motor system.
It is typically characterized by slow movement, involuntary tremors, rigidity, and stiffness in the movement of muscles and limbs.
Symptoms start gradually, often becoming noticeable as a tremor in one of the hands.
As the disease progresses, motor skills begin to break down. This causes a slow down of movement, such as not swinging arms when walking, little to no expression on the face, and difficulties walking.
Parkinson’s disease dementia typically occurs in the advanced stages and starts to affect the brain’s non-motor skills, such as its ability to plan, use language and remember.
Behavioral disorders are also associated with Parkinson’s disease, causing apathy, agitation, increased frustration and depression.
Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease is not fatal.
Two decades ago, the average life expectancy for somebody diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease was around 10 years. Today, medications and therapies allow people with Parkinson’s to have normal life expectancies.
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?
Dopamine plays a critical role in the brain acting as a neurotransmitter, a chemical that can communicate messages between the nerves and muscles of the body.
However, in the brain of somebody with Parkinson’s disease, these dopamine-producing nerve cells (neurons) gradually atrophy and die. This disrupts the coordination between the brain and the body’s nervous system and muscles.
Over time, dopamine levels continue to decrease, which causes abnormal brain activity and the characteristic rigidity of muscle movements.
Doctors do not yet understand what causes the onset of Parkinson’s in one person over another.
Inherited genes may slightly increase a person’s chances of developing Parkinson’s, but even then, this risk is low. Researchers are also studying the effects of environmental pollution to see if these increase the risk of Parkinson’s. Results have, so far, been inconclusive.
How Early Does Parkinson’s Start?
Parkinson’s disease almost always develops later in life, usually around the age of 60 or older. Parkinson’s before the age of 50 is considered Young Onset Parkinson’s (YOPD).
It’s possible to develop Parkinson’s under the age of 40, but this is exceedingly rare. Those under 40 make up only 2 percent of those with Parkinson’s.
Men are more commonly diagnosed with Parkinson’s than women, with a ratio of about 2:1.
What are the 5 Earliest Symptoms of Parkinson’s?
Dopamine production gets disrupted in the brain and the brain’s communication with the central nervous system is impaired greatly. This resultss in the following five distinctive early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Tremors are involuntary muscle contractions that cause shakiness. Usually, the first signs of Parkinson’s are noticing a tremor in just one hand, or even in the jaw, head or foot. It commonly affects just one side of the body at first, but gradually becomes more widespread across the body.
Stiffness and Rigidity in Limbs
Loved ones with Parkinson’s have difficulties relaxing their muscles, even when they are at rest. Limbs, the neck, and the trunk are commonly affected, causing rigidity in movement and a decreased range of motion.
Also called bradykinesia, the body’s ability to communicate with nerves and muscles is disrupted, which causes unpredictable or slow-moving muscles.
This is characterized by slow blinking, showing little expression on the face, not swinging the arms when walking, and a general slow movement in physical interactions.
Bradykinesia can be unpredictable and frustrating. A person affected may be able to use their motor skills, and then suddenly lose their ability in that moment, feeling disabled temporarily.
Poor Balance Posture, and Coordination
Parkinson’s causes a stooped, hunched-over posture that causes a person to lean forward too much, causing an improper balance.
Walking is also difficult, and many people often describe their feet as dragging or feeling stuck to the floor when they’re trying to walk.
All of these factors increase the risk of falling for seniors with Parkinson’s.
Speech is impacted by Parkinson’s in different ways, including:
- Slurred speech
- Slowed speech
- Mumbling or speaking very low and quietly
- Decreased emotion in voice
- Shakiness in the voice
Non-motor skills are also impacted, which causes confusion, memory problems, depression, and apathy. These can result in further speech difficulties.
Swallowing problems are also common with Parkinson’s disease.
Diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease
There is currently no single test that can diagnose Parkinson’s disease.
A clinical diagnosis is an evaluation by a trained neurologist to recognize the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
The doctor uses the patient’s health history and looks for at least two of the main symptoms of Parkinson’s to determine their diagnosis.
Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease
There is no current cure for Parkinson’s disease; however, there are medications that can soothe your loved one’s symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Levodopa, or L-Dopa, is the most common medication used to treat Parkinson’s symptoms.
L-Dopa acts as a precursor to dopamine, giving the brain access to more dopamine that it needs to function properly and reduce rigidity in muscles.
There are other medications that similarly affect the brain’s dopamine levels, making the symptoms more manageable.
Kensington Park: A Place for Your Loved One with Parkinson’s Disease
We are uniquely equipped to help seniors living with the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Our enhanced license allows us to care for higher acuity residents, which includes residents with Parkinson’s. This enables us to hire licensed nurses who work round the clock to administer medications, including injections, and can help our residents complete their daily activities of living so they can focus on their wellness.
We also employ rehabilitation specialists who work onsite to improve our residents’ mobility and motor skills, offering physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.
Kensington Park also offers a variety of specialty classes in partnership with the Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area (PFNCA), including Find Your Voice Choir with Kensington Park’s board-certified music therapist Melissa Pate; Communications Club with LSVT-certified clinician Susan I. Wranik, MS, MA CCC-SLP; and Boxing for Strength with a personal trainer at SPIRIT Club Kensington.
If your loved one living at home is dealing with the effects of Parkinson’s and you’d like to learn more about Kensington Park, contact us today.At Kensington Park, we extend Our Promise to you — to love and take care of your family as we would our own.