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The Basics of Parkinson’s Disease: Signs and Symptoms

The progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects a person’s movement, otherwise known as Parkinson’s disease, is most common in people who are over the age of 60.

Parkinson’s develops gradually and sometimes can start with a barely recognizable tremor in just one hand. The tremor, however, is perhaps the most well-known sign of Parkinson’s disease.

Boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, famous actor, Michael J. Fox, and Golden Girls actress, Estelle Getty, are all notable celebrities who are suffering or have suffered from this disease.

Today, we want to talk about the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s, and what you, as a caregiver, should look for when taking care of your aging loved one.

As a note, the signs and symptoms differ from person to person and may be mild enough that they go unnoticed. Also, the information here is not intended to provide you with information to form a diagnosis. Any medical conditions should be evaluated and diagnosed by a physician.

Five symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:

Tremor – Although not everyone with Parkinson’s develops a tremor, it is the most well-known symptom of this disease. The shaking usually starts in a limb and, more times than not, in the fingers or in the hand. Another symptom is an involuntary back-and-forth rubbing of the thumb and forefinger also known as a pill-rolling tremor. To check if a tremor exists, observe your loved one’s hand while it is at rest.

Muscle stiffness – Rigidity in the muscles is another symptom of this disease. A person with Parkinson’s disease may experience stiff muscles that can limit his or her range of motion, which, in turn, causes pain.

Changes in speech – There are a multitude of changes that can occur when a person has Parkinson’s disease. For instance, a person can experience more monotone speech instead of his or her usual inflections. They also may speak more softly, more quickly, or hesitate prior to speaking. In most cases, a speech-language pathologist can be a helpful resource to alleviate problems with speech.

Loss of movement – In some instances, people have experienced the inability to perform unconscious movements such as smiling, swinging their arms as they walk, and even blinking.

Change in movement – Slowed movement, otherwise known as bradykinesia, is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. This particular symptom could potentially reduce a person’s ability to move, or even slow his or her movement. Because of this change in movement, it could take a person much longer than usual when carrying out simple tasks. As a caregiver, pay attention to your loved one while he or she walks. If you notice that he or she takes shorter steps or drags his or her feet when walking, those are two examples of slowed movement and should be monitored.

These five symptoms are usually a result of the loss of neurons that create dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain. When the levels of dopamine decrease, it triggers abnormal brain activity which leads to the aforementioned symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

These symptoms may or may not be caused by Parkinson’s disease. If you notice any of these signs and symptoms in your loved one, visit his or her primary care physician as soon as possible, to diagnose the causes of his or her symptoms.

In our next blog, we will discuss the medications and treatment plans that are commonly associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Sources:

http://www.agingcare.com/Articles/what-is-parkinsons-disease-95741.htm

https://caregiver.org/parkinsons-disease-caregiving

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/basics/symptoms/con-20028488

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