Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that causes tremors, stiffness, and challenges with coordination and movement. This condition starts slowly and gradually worsens over time. For example, the earliest symptoms can include slurred speech, limited facial expressions, and a barely noticeable tremor in only one hand.
As the disease progresses, your loved one may have difficulty walking and talking. They may also have mental and behavioral changes, sleep problems, depression, memory difficulties, and fatigue. Increasingly, they will need daily support with exercise, mobility, bathing, dressing, hygiene, and home safety. In observation of World Parkinson’s Day on April 11, here’s our guide to understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
What Causes Parkinson’s?
While almost anyone can get Parkinson’s, some research suggests this disease affects more men than women. Aging increases a person’s risk – most people develop the condition after age 60. Though earlier-onset forms of Parkinson’s are typically genetic, most cases are not hereditary.
The most noticeable Parkinson’s symptoms emerge when neurons in the basal ganglia die. In a healthy brain, this region produces a neurotransmitter called dopamine. The neuron death causes the movement problems associated with the disease. People with Parkinson’s disease also lose the nerve endings that produce norepinephrine, which controls vital functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. The lack of norepinephrine might explain some of the non-movement features of Parkinson’s, such as fatigue, irregular blood pressure, and digestive issues.
Parkinson’s disease has four hallmark symptoms – tremors, muscle stiffness, slow movement, and impaired balance and coordination.
Other symptoms may include:
- Mood changes such as depression
- Difficulty swallowing, chewing, and speaking
- Urinary incontinence or constipation
Parkinson’s progression rate differs for everyone, but the earliest symptoms are usually minor. You may be the first to notice changes in your loved one – for example, that they seem unusually uncoordinated, speak too softly, have muscle stiffness, or that their face looks inexpressive. These effects may begin on one side of the body and usually remain worse on that side, even as the condition worsens.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you think your loved one may have Parkinson’s disease, schedule a screening appointment with a neurologist. While there isn’t a specific test to diagnose Parkinson’s, health professionals can rule out other illnesses that may present with similar symptoms. Blood tests, brain ultrasounds, PET scans, and MRIs are diagnostic tools a doctor can use to determine a correct diagnosis.
In addition to the examination, a health care provider may prescribe your loved one a medication called carbidopa-levodopa. Significant symptom improvement after taking the correct dose of this drug could confirm a Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Besides taking medication to manage Parkinson’s symptoms, a health care provider may also recommend that your loved one make specific lifestyle changes, especially regular exercise. In many cases, physical therapy focused on balance, stretching, and movement is beneficial. Working with a speech therapist can help your loved one learn to speak more clearly and confidently.
Trust Our Care Companions to Help Your Family Manage Parkinson’s Disease
Receiving a diagnosis of a degenerative, incurable illness can leave your family uncertain about what to do next. At Legacy Homecare LA, we provide our professional caregivers with Parkinson’s-specific training that allows our clients to stay in familiar surroundings while receiving the daily support and companionship they need.
Trust us to help your loved one with hygiene, dressing, exercise, mobility, and eating. As their condition progresses, they will remain in good hands with compassionate professionals who offer the highest standards of care. To learn more about what we offer and how it can benefit your family, reach out to us today.