Parkinson's symptoms are varied, and every patient experiences them in a different way, so it's important to be informed and vigilant.
What are the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common neurological conditions in this country. Despite this, thousands of people are misdiagnosed every year, meaning that patients suffer delays in getting the treatment and support they need. Part of the problem is that everyone's experience of Parkinson's is different. The symptoms develop gradually and can be confused for normal ageing, so the disease can take a frustratingly long time to diagnose.
How can I tell if a loved one has Parkinson’s?If you mention Parkinson’s disease, most people will picture someone with a tremor. It’s true that a tremor is common, but not everyone gets shaky. Many people may just experience a general slowing down of movement, an abnormal stiffness in the body and a lack of expression in their face. Even health professionals can miss the signs. As a doctor, I was worried about a close family friend. He was slow and stiff but not shaky. I expressed my concerns, but even so it took his GP nearly 2 years to arrange for assessment and referral. So, if you’re worried about a loved one, it helps to be well informed, and a little assertive too! There are three classic signs of Parkinson’s disease, all related to the body’s movement. The severity and the order in which they develop can be different for each individual:
- Tremor - a shaking movement of part of the body that is out of your control. This usually starts in one hand or arm and is more noticeable at rest.
- Slowness - body movements become slower and may be less coordinated. This affects mobility, with individuals taking small, slow steps and shuffling when they walk.
- Rigidity - the muscles become stiff and inflexible. This can cause painful cramps and make it difficult to move. Rigidity in the facial muscles can lead to a flat expressionless appearance.
What are Parkinson’s symptoms?In Parkinson’s, there is progressive damage to the area of the brain that helps control movement, this can have profound effects on many aspects of health and wellbeing: Small handwriting: Your loved one’s handwriting may become small, spidery and difficult to read. Dizziness and fainting: When people with Parkinson’s stand from a sitting or lying position, the blood pressure can take time to adapt. This leads to a sudden drop, causing dizziness and fainting. Loss of balance: People with Parkinson’s can have an impaired ability to balance, making them prone to falls and injuries. Loss of sense of smell: Anosmia can be present for many years before movement is affected. The ability to smell is important for tasting and enjoying food, so your loved one could have a decreased appetite and may lose weight. Digestive disturbance: It’s not just limb movements that slow down, the digestive tract can also be affected, leading to constipation or problems with swallowing. Dribbling and drooling: Too much saliva production and an inability to swallow it can lead to sufferers constantly dribbling. This can be distressing for the individual and off-putting for those around them. Medication may help and Botox is used to decrease saliva production. Problems passing water: People with Parkinson’s may need to go more frequently, get up in the night or suffer problems with incontinence, especially in the later stages. Sexual dysfunction: Many men with Parkinson’s struggle to sustain an erection and women can find it difficult to get aroused or achieve orgasm. Insomnia: It can be difficult to get a good night’s sleep, which can cause tiredness, lethargy and drowsiness during the day.
For more information about Parkinson’s disease; the history, causes, treatments and more, see Parkinson’s: A Deeper Dive
Emotional and mental symptomsDepression and anxiety: Many people with Parkinson’s can show significant depression and a lack of enjoyment in things that they used to love. In many ways, it’s understandable, because the disease can be difficult and the future can seem hopeless, however there are treatments and with support there can still be fun and joy ahead. Dementia: As the disease develops, mental functions can be affected, leading to a type of dementia. Your loved one may suffer memory loss and problems with communication and concentration. Judgement can be affected and it may be a struggle to plan complex tasks. Hallucinations and delusions, or seeing and believing things that are not real, are a particular feature of Parkinson’s Dementia, which can be upsetting for the individual and for those who care for them. As dementia progresses, it can begin to affect your loved one’s ability to function and live independently.
How is Parkinson’s Diagnosed?If you're worried that a loved one may have Parkinson's, it's important that you speak to a doctor. If the GP believes they may be affected, they should refer them to a specialist for further assessment. In the early stages of Parkinson's disease, they should have an appointment within 6 weeks and if their disease is more advanced they should be seen within 2. There is no definitive test for Parkinson’s, the neurologist will usually make a diagnosis based on the symptoms and the physical examination. The diagnosis is likely to be confirmed if your loved one has two or more of the symptoms of tremor, slowness and stiffness and these are improved by a medication called levodopa. After diagnosis, a care plan should be made. This will identify the treatments your loved one needs currently and how that may evolve on the future. There is currently no cure for Parkinson's disease, but medications and therapies can offer relief from symptoms, boost function and improve quality of life. A diagnosis of Parkinson’s can be shattering, but with accurate and timely diagnosis and the right medication, you can support your loved one to continue to live an enjoyable and active life. . If you are caring for someone with Parkinson's, HomeTouch can help. Founded by an NHS dementia doctor and staffed by people with direct nursing and care experience, we’re dedicated to helping those in need of care to live safely in their own home for as long as possible.
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