One common link between celebrities Neil Diamond, Michael J. Fox, and Alan Alda is they have all been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, about 60,000 people are diagnosed annually with Parkinson’s, a progressive nervous system disorder that affects one’s movement. Ruling out other possible health conditions can be essential to getting an accurate diagnosis of Parkinson’s as there is not one indicative test that can positively determine if one has the disease.
The following will look at common symptoms, treatments, and community resources available. It is advised that anyone seeking medical advice should look for a neurologist with a specialty in movement disorders.
According to the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA), there are four primary symptoms of Parkinson’s- these are Tremors, Slowed Movement (Bradykinesia), Rigidity, and Balance Problems (Postural Instability). Usually, two or more of these symptoms are needed to identify Parkinson’s.
A tremor, or shaking, usually will begin with one of the limbs- hands or fingers and will result in unintended movement when at rest. This symptom will usually start on one side and then affect the whole body as the disease progresses. Tremors can also occur on one’s jaw, chin, mouth, or tongue.
Slowed Movement is when simple tasks take more time than usual to complete as steps are shorter, a person may even drag their feet when they walk, and sitting to standing may also be difficult. However, this symptom will also affect the movement of the eyes (blinking) and facial expressions (or lack thereof). For example, one may believe that a person is uninterested in a conversation when in fact their facial muscles are immobilized resulting in a blank expression also referred to as “facial masking”.
The third symptom is Rigidity, or muscle stiffness, limiting one’s range of motion and may or may not involve pain. This symptom can mirror arthritis or other orthopedic conditions which would need to be ruled out.
The last major motor symptom is postural instability or balance issues which is more visible as the disease progresses where a struggle with balance can result in falls.
There are also non-motor symptoms that may be present with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s- a few of these include cognitive difficulties, depression and anxiety, sleep disorders, constipation and bladder problems, and smell dysfunction. For a full list of symptoms and details, please refer to the APDA website at https://www.apdaparkinson.org/what-is-parkinsons/symptoms/.
Although one of the most common risk factors for Parkinson’s is primarily that of older adults 60+, those 21-50 can develop symptoms which is referred to as early onset Parkinson’s. Although Parkinson’s indicators are similar, those with early onset tend to be more impacted by the social and psychological effects of the disease. Additionally, younger adults can be misdiagnosed. On a positive note, the progression of the disease is usually less aggressive in younger adults if their overall health is good.
There is no cure for Parkinson’s, however, there are a variety of medical treatment options that may be prescribed based on the symptoms one is being treated for and the stage of the disease process. Additionally, there are ongoing clinical trials that a person with Parkinson’s may qualify for. As with many other chronic health issues, a healthy diet and exercise program is key to making it easier to manage the disease. Ideally, an interdisciplinary team of providers is most beneficial for optimal patient care; this may include a primary care physician, movement disorder neurologist, social worker, and other recommended clinicians to assist in managing the disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, when preparing to see your physician for an initial diagnosis, it is important to 1) write down the symptoms you are experiencing, 2) write down key personal information, 3) make a list of all prescription and over the counter medications as well as vitamins and supplements, 4) ask a family or friend to come with you as its always better to have an extra set of ears to be sure that all information shared by the provider is understood, and 5) write down questions to ask the doctor.
Additional information on Parkinson’s can be found by visiting the APDA website at https://www.apdaparkinson.org/. National Health Care also has care centers for people with dementias. Learn more at https://nathealthcare.com/.
Column is written by Laura Falt, director of business development in Connecticut. Laura welcomes the opportunity to be a resource to the community on services for older adults and is often featured in local publications.