Early signs of Parkinson’s disease begin very slowly—a slight tremor in the hand, writing becomes smaller, or speech softens. Some early symptoms might be dismissed as a normal part of aging, arthritis, or hearing loss. But over time, these symptoms will progress. Parkinson’s disease is second only to Alzheimer’s as the most common neuro-degenerative disease in seniors over 60. And many people experience symptoms up to a decade before being diagnosed.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Let’s start with what Parkinson’s disease is. It’s a progressive and degenerative neurological disorder that causes atypical brain activity that can impair movement, among other symptoms. It is caused by a loss of neurons (nerve cells) in the substantia nigra. Neurons in this part of the brain produce chemical messengers called dopamine. When the dopamine-producing cells break down or die, the shortage of dopamine can lead to a loss of movement, impaired coordination, and other symptoms.
Although the exact Parkinson’s disease cause is unknown, a combination of genetic and environmental factors may play a role. Researchers have identified specific gene variations that increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease. But these genetic markers are rare. Exposure to certain chemicals and toxins or a traumatic brain injury may increase the risk of later developing Parkinson’s. But these environmental risks are also small. Other factors include age, over 60 years old, and gender because it’s more common in men than women. The interplay of multiple factors has proven to be complex when determining the cause.
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. But medications and treatments can manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s and improve one’s quality of life.
What are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, it is important to understand that the symptoms progress differently for each person. There is no exact roadmap. The rate of progression and the different symptoms experienced are influenced by lifestyle, age at onset, genetics, medication response, and overall health.
The most common symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease:
- A tremor is a common symptom that often begins in the hands, or with a limb, that might increase when using that body part or continues to tremble even when resting. A pill-rolling tremor is when the thumb and forefinger rub back and forth.
- Muscle Stiffness. Rigid muscles can limit the range of motion and become painful.
- Poor Balance. Falls are often the result of impaired balance or a stooped, unstable posture.
- Slow Movement. Slowed movement can make the simplest task, like getting out of a chair, more difficult. One’s gait may become shorter and resembles a shuffle.
- Decreased Unconscious Movement. Movements that we take for granted because they are automatic can decrease, like smiling, blinking, or swinging one’s arms when walking forward.
- Difficulty Swallowing. With reduced control of the muscles in the throat, swallowing can be difficult. Caregivers need to be careful this does not lead to pneumonia or choking.
- Handwriting Changes. Because hand movement and coordination changes, writing may appear smaller (known as micrographia) because it’s harder to control a pen, and hands may cramp.
- Speech Changes. How one speaks may change. Volume, tone, cadence, slurring, or hesitations before speaking may differ from normal speech patterns. Often, people with Parkinson’s disease sound monotone.
- Pain. Pain can be felt in one part of the body or throughout the body. One may experience burning or tingling pain and sharp pain, causing discomfort and making sleeping difficult.
8 Ways to Ease Parkinson’s Disease
If you have a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, always discuss your symptoms and potential treatment plans with your healthcare professional. In addition to your prescribed medications and medical treatments, there are ways to manage and reduce symptoms that may bring you comfort.
- Exercise Regularly. Exercise can improve strength, balance, mobility, and flexibility. It can help reduce stiff muscles and improve your mood for a better sense of well-being. Walking is a great way to enjoy nature at your pace and get some fresh air. We recommend you consult with your physician before starting a new exercise routine.
- Eat a Healthy Diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help boost your energy levels and support overall health. Add more fiber to your diet and eat smaller meals throughout the day to help alleviate the discomfort and bloating of constipation, a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease.
- Stay Hydrated. Drink plenty of water to stay properly hydrated and improve digestion. Aim for six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. If you dislike plain water, add fruit to flavor your water naturally.
- Get Enough Sleep. Many people living with Parkinson’s have sleep issues like REM sleep disorder and insomnia. A common cause of sleep problems is pain. The Dawn House bed offers ways to relieve pain with voice-activated commands to raise your head or legs to alleviate pressure points while you sleep or a Zero-G setting to relieve your lower back pain. The built-in oscillating motors provide relaxing vibration to soothe pain, promote relaxation, and improve circulation.
- Manage Stress. Stress has been known to worsen the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Try relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, tai chi, or deep breathing exercises.
- Be Social. Staying social and engaged can reduce stress, boost mood, and improve overall well-being. Reach out to family and friends who may be unsure how to help and ask for what you need. Find other kindred spirits and positive reinforcement by joining a support group. Find reputable resources online with personal stories for inspiration, reassurance, and connection—Facebook groups, personal blogs, and websites like The Michael J Fox Foundation, Parkinson’s Foundation, or Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s.
- Use Assistive Devices. Talk to your primary doctor or an occupational therapist about the devices on the market that can make your life easier and safer. A cane, walker, or wheelchair can be used for mobility. Voice amplifiers can increase the sound of an individual’s voice for better communication. Adaptive utensils with larger handles are easier to hold, and weighted pens can help with writing. Button hooks and adaptive clothing can make getting dressed less of a chore. And to ensure that you can safely get in and out of bed, the Dawn House bed offers supportive handrails to help steady you, patented edge support for stability, and the high/low adjustable function ensures your feet are firmly on the ground.
With some planning, a good support team, a partnership with your doctor, and restorative sleep, you can find ways to live as comfortably as possible with Parkinson’s disease.