You’ve just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. You are devastated and scared, but the sooner you educate yourself, the sooner you will understand what lies ahead for you and how you can manage the disease.
By definition, Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects the area of the brain that controls movement. Brain changes caused by the disease can affect a person’s gait, facial expressions, and posture. As it progresses, it can begin to interfere with memory and the ability to make sound judgments. Parkinson’s is the second most common age-related neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, Parkinson’s disease affects nearly 2% of older adults over the age of 65, accounting for nearly one million cases. The symptoms of Parkinson’s can look different in each person, depending on when the diagnosis occurs within the progression of the disease. However, there are some common symptoms most PD patients experience.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Those with Parkinson’s disease can experience both motor and non-motor symptoms. The first signs of Parkinson’s are often so subtle that they go unnoticed. However, as the disease progresses, symptoms tend to get worse. Here are the most common symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Tremors in the face, legs, arms, and hands. Tremors, which usually appear as shaking in the limbs, hands, or fingers, are very common among Parkinson’s patients. Some people might experience hand trembling while resting or rubbing between the forefinger and thumb.
- Rigidity. Muscle stiffness can occur in any part of the body and become painful if it lasts for long periods of time. Many people who experience rigidity have a limited range of motion and trouble walking.
- Slowness. Parkinson’s can cause delayed movements and make basic daily tasks hard to complete. Other symptoms include walking with shorter steps or dragging your feet while walking.
- Loss of automatic movements. Unconscious movements, such as blinking, smiling, and swallowing, become more difficult as the disease progresses.
- Changes in speech. Some individuals with Parkinson’s disease experience changes in their speech, such as hesitation, softness, quickness of speech, or slurring words.
Causes and Risk Factors
While researchers are still gathering data on Parkinson’s disease, we do know that there are several factors that increase the risk of developing the disease. Researchers have shown that some specific genetic mutations are directly related to Parkinson’s disease. However, it’s rare to develop these mutations unless the disease is present in many family members. There are also other mutations that increase the risk of PD but do not directly cause the disease.
In addition, some researchers have suggested that ongoing exposure to toxins, such as herbicides and pesticides, can slightly increase the risk of PD. It’s also been proven that older adults, most of whom are diagnosed around the age of 60, are more at risk of developing Parkinson’s disease when compared to younger adults, just as men are more at risk than women.
Related Health Conditions
Those who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease may experience other health concerns. These issues usually arise after the disease has progressed. These are some of the most common health conditions related to Parkinson’s disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, nearly one million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease. Of those diagnosed, nearly 50 percent to 80 percent may experience dementia. Most adults who develop dementia are diagnosed 10 years after the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Along with the typical symptoms of PD, some people with Parkinson’s disease dementia have reported changes in memory, muffled speech, visual hallucinations, depression, daytime drowsiness, and anxiety.
Depression and Emotional Changes
These are common problems for those in any stage of the disease, especially those newly diagnosed. Other emotional changes such as fear, anxiety, and loss of motivation are common and can be treated with medication.
Those with Parkinson’s disease often have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep through the night. Rapid eye movement, which involves acting out your dreams, is also common for those with the disease. These sleep disorders can cause fatigue, especially later in the day. Doctors and healthcare providers can prescribe medications to pacify these problems.
Bladder and Constipation
Some people with PD have reported issues with controlling their bladder and having difficulty urinating. Constipation also accompanies Parkinson’s disease due to the slowing of the digestive tract.
Changes in Blood Pressure
It’s not uncommon to feel lightheaded due to a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Because of the changes in the brain, PD patients often experience pain. This pain can be felt all over the body or concentrated in certain areas.
While there is no standard treatment for Parkinson’s disease, there are some treatments designed to help manage the symptoms. Treatments can include medications to manage tremors, stress, and sleep problems. Other alternatives, like surgery, are reserved for patients who have trouble managing tremors with medication. Traditionally, exercise and therapies are standard treatment options that help with improving flexibility and balance while reducing rigidity.
Because there is a lot we do not understand about Parkinson’s disease, many clinical trials are designed to gather more information. These trials include testing new treatments, such as medications, surgery, or therapies on existing PD patients in hopes of creating a new successful treatment option.
Living with Parkinson’s Disease
Learning how to navigate life can be difficult as Parkinson’s disease progresses. As part of the diagnosis, the biggest challenges can be managing overall health and wellness, including managing medication appropriately, getting enough exercise while remaining flexible, and managing stress and anxiety. While some people living with the disease may wish to remain at home with a caregiver, other options, like assisted living, can provide additional support and peace of mind for the caretaker. Here are a few ways assisted living communities can help manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Health and Wellness – A medical management team provided at most assisted living communities can help control symptoms of PD while minimizing adverse effects. They can also provide individualized care planning, help with medication administration, and provide nutritionally balanced and healthy meals reviewed by a Registered Dietician.
Exercise and Fitness – Exercise can slow down the disease progression and help enhance motor function. Assisted living communities offer daily group exercise classes, individual fitness programs, and physical, occupational, and speech therapies to help reduce the loss of motor function and increase flexibility.
Managing Stress and Anxiety – Unmanaged stress and anxiety can actually make PD symptoms, like tremors and rigidity, worse. Assisted living communities can help manage stress through psychology and psychiatry services, counseling, music therapy, and social programs to connect residents with similar challenges.
Managing Parkinson’s at Inspīr
Because Parkinson’s disease is both a chronic and progressive illness, those diagnosed need high-quality care, both physically and emotionally. At Inspīr, we work with each resident through our unique Integrated Care Model (ICM), a team-based, interdisciplinary approach to whole-person health and wellness. Built on a philosophy of vibrant, intentional living and meaningful connections, our ICM synthesizes the expertise of professionals across multiple disciplines for the best possible outcomes for each resident.
Our Parkinson’s Disease Guide provides helpful information and resources to guide you through a diagnosis.