Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder. In the early stages, the signs and symptoms may be mild and easy to miss.
Learning to spot the early, mild symptoms in loved ones can help get them an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
While Parkinson’s can’t be cured, medications and certain types of therapy can improve symptoms and quality of life.
Read on to learn the initial signs of Parkinson’s disease, the causes, treatments and how to know when your loved one needs more support.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, loved ones or family members may notice issues with movement and balance.
These issues are caused by damage to nerve cells in the area of the brain that controls movement. Over time, those with Parkinson’s disease may have trouble walking, talking and experience mental and behavioral changes.
Both men and women are affected by this disease, but men are statistically more likely to develop it than women. Most people begin to develop Parkinson’s by around age 60.
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?
The area of the brain that controls movement is called the basal ganglia. The nerve cells in this area produce the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for mood, motivation, and regulation of movement and learning.
Parkinson’s disease occurs when nerve cells in the basal ganglia become impaired or die, which results in less dopamine production.
As a result, movement symptoms begin to occur. Scientists are unsure what causes these cells to die, but there are some gene mutations associated with Parkinson’s.
What’s the Link Between Parkinson’s and Lewy Bodies?
Many people with Parkinson’s disease also have abnormal protein clumps in their brain cells, known as Lewy bodies. Scientists are trying to discover the links between these factors.
While some cases of the disease appear to be gene-related, others appear to be random. Researchers currently believe Parkinson’s occurs as a result of genetic and environmental factors.
What are the Early Warning Signs of Parkinson’s Disease?
The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can be different from person to person, but being aware of common early signs can be helpful in determining whether your loved one may need to visit their doctor.
Symptoms often begin on one side of the body, and may remain worse on that side even as the symptoms appear on the other.
Watch for these early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:
- Little or no facial expression
- Arms don’t swing when walking
- Soft or slurred speech
- Tremor or shake, starting in the hands or fingers
- Slowed movement
- Stooped posture or balance issues
- Trouble writing
Early symptoms often are dismissed as normal signs of aging, but a watchful eye can help your loved one get an accurate diagnosis.
Changes in loved ones often become noticeable during the holidays, especially if family members who haven’t seen your loved one in a while notice hard-to-spot symptoms.
It’s important to take your loved one to the doctor as soon as you or they notice any changes.
Many people with Parkinson’s note that before they experienced any movement issues, they had issues with sleep, decreased ability to smell, constipation, and restless legs. Any health change is worth a trip to the doctor; especially to rule out other issues.
How is Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosed?
There is no single, specific test to diagnose Parkinson’s disease.
Instead, a neurologist will make a diagnosis based on reviewing your loved ones symptoms, medical history and performing a physical and neurological exam.
Your loved one’s doctor is likely to first schedule blood work to rule out any other potential reasons for their symptoms. Imaging tests may be used to look at the brain, although this method usually isn’t very helpful in diagnosing Parkinson’s.
Sometimes it can take time to finally reach a diagnosis, as doctors evaluate your loved one’s symptoms over time. However, during this period, there may be medications or other types of therapy that can help your loved one manage their current symptoms.
How is Parkinson’s Disease Treated?
Parkinson’s disease has no cure, but medications and therapies might be helpful in controlling symptoms and maintaining quality of life.
The most common medication, Levodopa, is a natural chemical that the brain converts into dopamine. The use of this medication significantly improves symptoms for some people.
Treatments such as physical and speech therapies also can be helpful in improving movement, balance, and speech.
Overall, doctors recommend living as healthy a lifestyle as possible, including nourishing foods and regular exercise.
How a Community Can Help Your Loved One Thrive
As your loved one moves through the stages of Parkinson’s disease, the amount of care and support they need may exceed what a family member or home caregiver is able to provide.
Fortunately, there are assisted living communities that provide expert, loving care for those with Parkinson’s disease.
The Kensington Sierra Madre is an assisted living and memory care community that provides world-class health care in addition to a full calendar of events and life enrichment programs.
A Full Spectrum of Care at The Kensington
The Kensington Sierra Madre has an Enhanced Assisted Living Residence (EALR) license that allows us to provide a higher level of care than traditional communities.
Even those who require high acuity care can find a home with us. This is true “aging in place,” where no matter how your loved one’s care needs progress, we can meet and exceed these needs.
We also have on-site rehabilitation services, to help those who need to restore mobility and balance, regain strength or need assistance with chewing or swallowing.
Reach out to our team today to learn more about our care and services.Our Promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own, and we are committed to providing the outstanding care you want for your loved ones.