Parkinson’s disease is a progressive movement disorder affecting the nervous system, meaning that the symptoms of the disease worsen as time goes on. Researchers have discovered that the hallmark sign of Parkinson’s disease — clumps of a protein alpha-synuclein, which are also called Lewy Bodies — are found not only in the mid-brain but also in the brain stem and the olfactory bulb. There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s but symptoms can be managed by medications and sometimes surgery.
The specific group and severity of symptoms experienced differ from person to person. Primary motor signs of Parkinson’s disease include the following.
- Rigid muscles. Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of the body. The stiff muscles can limit your range of motion and cause you pain.
- Impaired posture and balance. Your posture may become stooped, or you may have balance problems as a result of Parkinson’s disease.
- Loss of automatic movements. In Parkinson’s disease, you may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling or swinging your arms when you walk. You may no longer gesture when talking.
- Speech changes. You may have speech problems as a result of Parkinson’s disease. You may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before talking. Your speech may be more of a monotone rather than with the usual inflections. A speech-language pathologist may help improve your speech problems.
- Writing changes. Writing may appear small and become difficult.
Risk factors for developing Parkinson’s disease include:
- Age. Young adults rarely experience Parkinson’s disease. It ordinarily begins in middle or late life, and the risk increases with age. People usually develop the disease around age 60 or older.
- Heredity. Having a close relative with Parkinson’s disease increases the chances that you’ll develop the disease. However, your risks are still small unless you have many relatives in your family with Parkinson’s disease.
- Sex. Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than are women.
- Exposure to toxins. Ongoing exposure to herbicides and pesticides may put you at a slightly increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Tips for caregivers
If you’re caring for a loved one suffering from Parkinson’s here are 4 tips to help make your journey easier.
- Expand your knowledge: The unknown can be terrifying and can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and stress in caregivers. Take the time to familiarize yourself with what to expect while caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s. Knowing the 5 stages and the common attributes during each stage will be very beneficial to you. To learn more about what to expect during each stage click here. Additionally, awareness of the current research being conducted in regards to Parkinson’s may allow your loved one to participate in cutting edge studies to help manage their symptoms and help find a cure.
- At the doctor: If possible, attend every physician appointment with your loved one. The brain can absorb and retain a limited amount of information. Additionally, you may think of questions to ask the physician that did not occur to your loved one. In this case, two heads are better than one! For the time between physician appointments keep a journal of any unordinary behaviors or changes in your loved one. You can also document questions you want to be sure to ask.
- At home: As your loved one’s disease progresses you will probably find it necessary to make adjustments to your home life. These changes might include making special accommodations for your loved one’s loss of mobility. Additionally, you may find it helpful to enlist the help of a private duty home care agency. These professionals can help care for your loved one as their disease evolves by assisting with things like personal care, transportation, and fall prevention.
- Get support: It’s important that you take the time to step away from your caregiving duties to do something you enjoy. There is no reason to feel guilty if you need the afternoon off. You may also find it helpful to join a support group specifically for Parkinson’s caregivers. In this group you will be able to share your struggles as well as gain insight from others who have been in your shoes.
Information provided in part by: http://www.pdf.org/ and http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/basics/symptoms/con-20028488