Parkinson’s Disease affects more than one million people in the United States. Estimates indicate that between 50,000 and 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, affecting more men than women. It is a difficult disease to diagnose as the early symptoms are subtle and may exist for years. As your loved one ages, it is important to have a general idea about many different health conditions that may commonly have onset in the senior years and Parkinson’s disease is one of them.
Like many other diseases, Parkinson’s involves the “the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells” in the brain, called neurons. The disease becomes progressively worse over time with the symptoms increasing and mobility decreasing. Scientists and the medical community don’t know the cause of Parkinson’s and currently there is no cure. Medications are improving and they can manage the symptoms of the disease, some more effectively than others.
Here are three important things you need to know about Parkinson’s Disease:
Parkinson’s disease is difficult to diagnose until symptoms become pronounced. In the early stages there are no definitive symptoms that point to an exclusive diagnosis. A diagnosis will depend upon a physical exam and other tests and the presence of two of the four main symptoms of the disease. Some of the earliest symptoms can include the following:
- Loss of balance
- Stiffness or rigid limbs or body
- Slowness of movements
- Small handwriting
It is important to note that even though Parkinson’s disease is associated with tremors and other physical symptoms, there are many other non-physical symptoms that should be discussed. These are called “nonmotor symptoms”. They aren’t visible, but the good news is that they are readily treatable. These symptoms include:
- Loss of sense of smell
- Trouble sleeping
- Constipation and bladder disorders
- Anxiety and depression
- Pain, especially in a limb
2. Onset and Progression
The age of onset for Parkinson’s disease is generally 62, although younger people have been diagnosed with the disease. The progression of the disease is different for everyone. Some people will begin to notice symptoms suddenly, while others will live with very mild symptoms for many years. Some people notice that the symptoms are different at different times of the day or while engaging in different activities. Others report that nonmotor symptoms like depression and fatigue are much more difficult to cope with on a daily basis than are the motor related symptoms.
Treatments for Parkinson’s disease include exercise, medications and sometimes surgery. All of the medications treat the symptoms of the disease but none of them can cure it. There are over-the-counter and prescription medications and surgical treatments. Each is very detailed and should be considered only in close consultation with your loved one’s physician. A comprehensive list and description of these treatment options can be found at the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation website.
If your loved one suffers with Parkinson’s disease, in-home care can provide important support. Having someone spend time with your loved one can encourage them to exercise to improve their balance and can also lift their spirits. Read our in-home care guide to help you determine what types of support will help your loved one and provide you with peace of mind.