Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that affects approximately 60,000 elderly US residents yearly. This guide will provide information on what Parkinson’s disease is, how it is diagnosed, and the available treatments.
Read on to learn more about recognizing the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that often impairs the sufferer’s motor skills, speech, and other functions.
The most common symptoms are tremors or shaking in one or both hands, stiffness and slow movement, and difficulty balancing. It can be hard to diagnose at first because symptoms present gradually, often as just a slight tremor in one hand.
As these symptoms become more pronounced, patients may have trouble walking, writing, or performing other daily activities. PD generally affects people over 60 and is more common in men than women.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for PD, but don’t lose hope. There are many treatments to help to improve Parkinson’s symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
Stages of Parkinson’s Disease
The early stage of Parkinson’s disease is defined as the time when symptoms first appear. This can be difficult to determine because PD symptoms can be very subtle initially and may not be noticed by family and friends.
Let’s take a brief look at the four main stages of Parkinson’s disease according to the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP) offered by Medicaid for caregivers of people suffering from this terrible disease.
- Early Stage: In this stage, people with Parkinson’s may have mild symptoms that are not yet interfering with their daily lives. They may be able to live independently and do not require help from a caregiver.
- Mid Stage: As Parkinson’s progresses to this stage, patients may have difficulty performing some daily activities and need help from caregivers. Symptoms of the disease will now appear on both sides of their body and become increasingly noticeable.
- Mid-Late Stage: During this later stage of PD, people may have difficulty performing all daily activities, such as bathing, have trouble sleeping, and may even be at risk for falls and fractures. In this more severe stage of Parkinson’s disease, most people will require help from a caregiver.
- Advanced Stage: In this stage, people with Parkinson’s are generally unable to care for themselves and require around-the-clock care from a caregiver.
While the stages of advancement help paint a general picture of what Parkinson’s patients face, it’s essential to examine the symptoms of PD to understand the care and treatment they need as the disease progresses.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
As Parkinson’s progresses, the symptoms gradually become more pronounced and begin interfering with daily activities. The main motor symptoms of PD are:
- Tremor. A tremor, or shaking, usually begins in a limb on one side of the body. The tremor is usually most noticeable when the arm is at rest or when the person is under stress. In some cases, the tremor may be barely noticeable. As Parkinson’s disease progresses, the shaking may become more severe and affect both sides of the body.
- Rigidity. Rigidity is defined as increased muscle stiffness. As rigidity worsens, moving any part of the affected limb may become difficult.
- Bradykinesia. Bradykinesia is the slowness of movement. People with bradykinesia take longer to initiate action and have difficulty completing simple tasks such as buttoning a shirt. In advanced Parkinson’s disease, people may freeze in place and be unable to move.
- Postural instability. Postural instability is the difficulty of maintaining balance. People with postural instability are at risk for falls, and as the disease progresses, it may become so severe that a person cannot stand or walk without assistance.
- Speech changes. Speech changes are also a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. The voice may become soft or muffled, and there may be changes in the ability to swallow, leading to drooling and an increased risk of choking and pneumonia.
- Writing issues. Writing changes are expected in Parkinson’s patients due to a loss of feeling in the muscles, which can make it hard to write clearly.
In addition, people with Parkinson’s may also experience non-motor symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, and fatigue. The older the person, the more likely they will share these non-motor symptoms.
Now that we’ve covered the symptoms let’s examine the underlying causes of Parkinson’s Disease.
Causes of Parkinson’s Disease
Scientists have worked hard to determine the cause of Parkinson’s disease to identify those who could be affected, and they have narrowed it down to several culprits:
- Lewy bodies: The most common cause of Parkinson’s disease is the presence of Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies are tiny clumps of protein that build up in nerve cells in the brain and are a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease.
The exact role that Lewy bodies play in the development of Parkinson’s disease is not yet known, but it is thought that they may contribute to the death of nerve cells in the brain.
- Alpha-synuclein: A substance found within Lewy bodies, scientists believe that alpha-synuclein may help contribute to the development of Parkinson’s disease.
Abnormalities in this protein were first found in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, and studies have since shown that alpha-synuclein plays a vital role in the health of nerve cells.
- Family history: If someone in your family has Parkinson’s disease, you may be more likely to get it yourself. Researchers have identified specific genes that, while uncommon, are linked to increased disease risk.
- Exposure to toxins: People exposed to certain toxins, such as pesticides, are at increased risk of Parkinson’s disease; however, it is essential to note that the risk is relatively small.
- Head injuries: Traumatic brain injuries have been linked to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.
As you can see, scientists are currently studying many possible links and causes of Parkinson’s disease, with hopes of a breakthrough to cure or halt the progression of this disease. So, who is most at risk for developing PD?
Who is Most at Risk of Developing Parkinson’s Disease?
Anyone can develop Parkinson’s disease, but the risk is more significant for people over 60. About one million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease.
Men are also slightly more likely to develop the disease than women. While there is no single cause of Parkinson’s disease, researchers believe it may be related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Specifically, people with family members who have suffered from the disease are more likely to get Parkinson’s, and those exposed to toxins are at higher risk of developing Parkinson’s.
Now that we know the symptoms and risk factors for Parkinson’s disease let’s look at how it’s diagnosed. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to improving the quality of life for Parkinson’s patients!
How is Parkinson’s Diagnosed?
There are several ways to diagnose Parkinson’s disease, but clinical diagnostic criteria are the most common method. This means that a doctor will consider the patient’s medical history, physical examination, and symptoms to diagnose.
Often, patients are referred to a neurologist, and in some cases, imaging tests such as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan or a CT (computerized tomography) scan may be ordered to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms (such as a stroke).
However, there is no single test that can diagnose Parkinson’s disease. Once Parkinson’s is diagnosed, many other complications may occur along with motor symptoms. Let’s take a look.
Complications That Come Along with Parkinson’s
As Parkinson’s disease progresses, it can lead to other problems.
Difficulty swallowing. As people with Parkinson’s disease get older, they may have difficulty swallowing. This can happen because the muscles in the throat and esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach) are affected by Parkinson’s disease.
Constipation. This is a common problem because the muscles used for digestion slow down. The stool can back up in the intestines, causing pain and bloating.
Depression. Many people with Parkinson’s disease become depressed. Depression can worsen symptoms and make it hard to stick to treatment plans.
Urinary problems. Parkinson’s disease can make it hard to control urination. This can lead to urinary tract infections or incontinence (leaking).
Skin problems. People with Parkinson’s disease may have dry skin, trouble sweating, and more skin infections.
Sleep problems. People with Parkinson’s often have trouble sleeping. They may wake up frequently during the night or sleep during the day.
Blood pressure. People with Parkinson’s disease may have low blood pressure when they stand up (orthostatic hypotension), which can cause them to feel faint or dizzy. People with Parkinson’s disease need to check their blood pressure regularly and tell their doctor if they have any concerns.
Smell dysfunction. Parkinson’s disease can make it difficult for you to smell and happens because the condition damages the part of your brain responsible for processing smells.
Pain. Parkinson’s disease can be excruciating, especially in the later stages. The pain is often caused by the rigidity and stiffness of the muscles. Many treatments are available to help ease the pain, but finding one that works for everyone can be challenging.
Fatigue. Fatigue is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease and can be debilitating. Getting as much rest as possible and pacing yourself throughout the day are essential.
Sexual Dysfunction. As people age, they are more likely to experience problems with their sexual health, especially those with Parkinson’s disease. Sexual dysfunction is a common complication of Parkinson’s and can be both a physical and emotional issue.
Now that we’ve looked at all the symptoms of this disorder let’s discuss any possible ways to prevent it.
Prevention of Parkinson’s Disease
While scientists have many theories about the causes of Parkinson’s, they have no conclusive evidence, making it difficult to say how to prevent the disease definitively.
One theory on preventing Parkinson’s disease suggests that regular aerobic exercise may help avoid its development. Aerobic exercise benefits overall health and may also help reduce inflammation.
This reduced inflammation may help to protect the brain against the development of Parkinson’s disease. Another theory on preventing Parkinson’s disease suggests that eating a healthy diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids may help protect against it.
Antioxidants help to protect cells from damage, while omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. This combination of nutrients may help to reduce inflammation throughout the body and protect the brain against the development of Parkinson’s disease.
Yet another theory suggests caffeine and green tea as preventative agents. Some researchers believe these drinks may help protect the brain against damage caused by free radicals.
The good news is that most of these suggestions for preventing Parkinson’s will not harm you or even might help make you healthier, as long as you don’t take them to extremes!
So, what can we do to improve quality of life and slow the progress of Parkinson’s? Let’s find out.
Parkinson’s Disease Treatment
Many treatments are available for Parkinson’s disease, and the best approach depends on the individual’s unique situation. Some people may only need medication to manage their symptoms, while others may require a combination of therapies. Here are some of the current treatments:
Many different drugs can be prescribed to help with the symptoms of Parkinson’s. The most common are levodopa and carbidopa, which work to increase the levels of dopamine in the brain.
There is a reason that these drug treatments target dopamine levels and production in the brain. The main symptom of Parkinson’s disease is uncontrolled shaking, or tremors, in one or both hands.
The cause of these tremors is the loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. These cells typically produce a chemical called dopamine.
Dopamine acts as a neurotransmitter, sending messages between the substantia nigra and other brain parts to coordinate muscle movement.
When dopamine levels are low, it results in abnormal nerve-firing patterns that cause muscle tremors. Most Parkinson’s drugs aim to either replace dopamine or stimulate the parts of the brain that are still working to produce it.
Surgery for Parkinson’s disease is typically done to relieve symptoms that are not responding well to medication. The two most common types of surgery are deep brain stimulation (DBS) and thalamotomy.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is the most common type of surgery for Parkinson’s disease and involves implanting a small device called a “stimulator” in the brain.
Once this is done, the device sends electrical signals to specific movement-related brain areas. This procedure can help improve symptoms such as tremors, rigidity, and slow motion.
Thalamotomy involves destroying a small part of the thalamus, a deep brain structure involved in the activity, which can help to reduce tremors and other symptoms on one side of the body.
Physical therapy can help improve mobility and range of motion. It is often used with other treatments, such as medication and surgery.
Speech therapy can help with the problems that Parkinson’s patients have with speaking clearly and loudly.
Eating a healthy diet is essential for everyone, but it is crucial for people with Parkinson’s. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help keep your body healthy and may help to delay the progression of Parkinson’s.
This guide examined the treatment, prevention, and diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in the elderly. Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, treatments available can help improve the quality of life for those affected by the condition.
Some measures can be taken to prevent or delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease. An early diagnosis is vital to receive the most effective treatment possible.
We hope that by reading this guide, you will be able to recognize Parkinson’s symptoms in yourself or your loved ones and get them the early care and treatment they need.