April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. After Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson disease (PD) is the second most neurodegenerative disease. An estimated one million people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease and many of them are aged 60 and older. Despite its prevalence, there is still much we don’t understand about the condition and those who suffer from it. This lack of knowledge can lead to older adults with Parkinson’s disease not having their symptoms recognized, their disease going untreated and it could have a serious impact on their quality of life. Learning more about Parkinson’s can help people with the condition get early intervention.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic degenerative disorder that impacts the nervous system. The exact cause is unknown and there is no cure, but there are a number of treatment options available. The condition mainly affects dopamine-producing neurons in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. The condition often begins in middle or late life, and the risk of developing it increases as we age. People usually develop the disease around age 60 or older. Because the worldwide population is living longer, PD represents a significant and increasing threat to public health.
Although the symptoms vary from person to person, common experiences are hand tremors, slow body movements, balance problems, rigid muscles, speech problems and handwriting changes. Because the outward symptoms are so well known, many people make the mistake of believing that Parkinson’s disease only impacts the motor functions. However, the lesser known or “invisible” symptoms of the disease are completely unrelated to movement and could have a greater effect on a person’s quality of life.
For example, people with Parkinson can experience behavioral changes and cognitive impairment. These invisible symptoms could be early indicators of the development of Parkinson’s disease. Non-motor or invisible Parkinson’s symptoms may also include:
- Trouble sleeping or sudden jerking movements during sleep
- Reduced sense of smell
- Bladder problems
- Sexual dysfunction
A study of 750 people recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford in Britain found that 99 percent “had at least one ‘non-motor’ symptom, and many suffered five or more. A number of these symptoms were apparently untreated, despite the availability of effective treatments.” According to the research, the study’s participants were also more impacted by their invisible symptoms than tremors or movement problems. Depression, anxiety and fatigue were most commonly cited as the symptoms that lowered the quality of life. Fortunately, the motor and non-motor invisible symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are treatable and both can be managed with medical interventions.
If you are experiencing two or more of the non-motor symptoms and/or motor symptoms such as shaking, slow movements, stiffness, and balancing trouble, you may want to consult your physician about testing for Parkinson’s disease. If you have already been diagnosed with the disease, you can also work with your doctor to create a plan for maintaining your mental and physical health. This could include being referred to a specialist such as a neurologist, working with an occupational, physical, and/or speech therapist, following a recommended diet and exercise program and consulting a social worker to assess your mental and social well-being. This teamwork approach can be extremely beneficial for your total health and greatly improve your quality of life.
Help for Parkinson’s disease patients
Along with the support of round-the-clock nursing care, Capitol Hill Healthcare offers a highly specialized program dedicated to comprehensive rehabilitation with a focus on comfort, support and results. Rehab First has physical, occupational and speech therapy. To learn more, call 334-834-2920.