Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a degenerative disorder that affects the brain and causes the central nervous system to slowly shut down over the course of many years. The world famous boxer Muhammad Ali lost his fight in 2016 to Parkinson’s after battling it for 32 years. Television and movie actor Michael J. Fox has also struggled with Parkinson’s Disease. The star deliberately did not take his medications so that lawmakers could see the intensity of the disease’s symptoms when he appeared before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee to plead for more funding for research about the disease.
Early detection of the disease may help to slow its procession, so here are some of the early warning signs that may point to Parkinson’s and some of the treatment solutions that may help extend the quality and length of a Parkinson’s disease sufferer’s life.
Signs usually appear after the age of 60
The National Parkinson’s Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the research of the disease so that individuals and their families can have the highest quality of life until a cure can be found. They have established ten of the most common signs that a loved one may be experiencing the beginning stages of PD. The symptoms are seemingly harmless, but when more than one is present, it is time to speak with the doctor about where to go from there. One thing to keep in mind is that most symptoms related to PD do not typically arise until the person is at least 60 years old.
10 Red flags
- Has a loved one’s posture changed significantly? Is he or she stooping over or even leaning more to one side?
- Has the person complained about feeling dizzy when standing up? This is a sign of low blood pressure and one of the main symptoms of Parkinson’s.
- Has the person’s countenance changed? Parkinson’s causes people to appear as though they are depressed or angry even when they are not. This is known as masking and may include not blinking or blank stares.
- Is the person harder to hear? A softer voice that is harder to understand, even hoarse at times, could be a warning sign of Parkinson’s if it cannot be explained by a temporary illness.
- Constipation can occur for a number of reasons, including certain medications or changes in diet. It could also point to PD.
- Are a loved one’s movements stiff and almost awkward? It is normal for older people to need a few minutes to get moving in the morning or after sitting for a while, but it is not normal if their feet appear to be almost stuck to the floor or if their arms do not swing right when walking.
- People with Parkinson’s disease will often lose their sense of smell. Does a loved one complain about or show signs of not being able to sense obvious smells?
- Has the person’s handwriting become smaller? PD will cause a person to write smaller and closer together. This change is sudden and not the typical decline in handwriting caused by arthritis or just old age. It may also appear as if a shaky hand wrote the message.
- Small tremors and twitches are one of the most common signs of Parkinson’s that most everyone recognizes, but it is actually one of the earliest and most mild of symptoms. Thus, it is important never to ignore the slightest tremor. It doesn’t always affect the hands either. Look for a quivering chin, lip, or legs when sitting down.
- A disruption in sleep patterns is also a warning sign that could point to a number of things, but if a loved one is struggling with sleeping at night and has any other symptom, an appointment should be made with a doctor.
Early detection = early treatment
Many of these symptoms are caused by a lack of dopamine in the brain. Therefore, many of the early treatment approaches include holistic lifestyle changes such as exercise and improved diets.
The Parkinson’s Outcome Project study found that increasing physical activity improves the quality of life for a Parkinson’s sufferer. Experts recommend at least 2.5 hours a week of exercise.
Foods that are higher in calcium and fiber are beneficial. People with PD are also at risk for bone thinning and falling. Diets rich in calcium, magnesium, and vitamins D and K can help strengthen and repair bone structures. Staying hydrated is important as PD increases dehydration. Drinking plenty of water can also help relieve chronic constipation and improve kidney function.
Doctors may also prescribe medications to increase dopamine levels. As the disease progresses, certain medications may be prescribed by the physician to help treat the rigidity in movement and tremors. As the disease progresses even further, surgery may become an option for some people, but it is a last resort.
One thing is sure: as a person advances in age and with the disease, more interventions will be needed. While Parkinson’s Disease is not an actual cause of death in and of itself, the complications caused by it are.
As more research is conducted scientists will hopefully gain a better understanding of the inner workings of PD and thus find a cure, or at the very least, more effective treatment measures. In the meantime, making sure loved ones see a doctor at the first signs of PD can help them live longer and more enjoyable lives. Support groups are also making a difference and are a good source of encouragement and knowledge for PD patients and their families.
National Parkinson Foundation. What is Parkinson’s? Understanding Parkinson’s: Available at http://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/what-is-parkinsons/. Last Visited June 8, 2016.
National Parkinson Foundation. (2012). Parkinson’s Outcomes Project: Report to the Community. Available at https://parkinson.org/research/Parkinsons-Outcomes-Project