If you suspect you or a loved one might have symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD), learn the next steps to seek a diagnosis and move forward with life. Early detection of Parkinson's disease can lead to a better quality of life and provide peace of mind for caregivers.
What Is Parkinson's Disease?
Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder often occurring among older adults. Those with the disease often experience trembling in their arms, face, legs, and jaw. The disease can also affect balance and make movements slower and stiffer. This condition occurs when nerve cells in the brain don't produce enough dopamine, meaning the brain cannot send electrical signals to the body as easily.
Parkinson's disease typically arises around age 60, though it may appear earlier. Sometimes genetics make the disease more common in one family than another, but it might also occur in families with no history of the condition.
How to Detect Parkinson's Disease
The easiest way to detect Parkinson's disease is by monitoring its early signs. Parkinson's disease has two primary categories of symptoms — motor and non-motor. Motor symptoms are most commonly associated with the disease but often are not the first signs to appear. Look for non-motor signs first for the earliest diagnosis.
Parkinson's disease often begins with minor signs unrelated to movement. Here are a few to look for:
- Loss of smell: You may notice you can't smell foods like bananas, licorice, or dill pickles. Loss of smell often occurs due to a cold or flu, but if the sense is lost for a longer period, it may point to a different source.
- Constipation: It is normal to have irregular bowel movements due to medication or lack of fiber. However, difficult bowel movements may also point to Parkinson's disease.
- Trouble sleeping: Early PD may also appear as thrashing in bed during sleep or acting out dreams while sleeping deeply. A spouse or partner can often identify this symptom.
- Depression: Parkinson's disease may also impact your mood, causing depressive symptoms. These symptoms occur due to an unbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain.
- Dizziness or fainting: Parkinson's disease can cause lightheadedness when standing up. Low blood pressure associated with PD creates this symptom.
After non-motor symptoms appear, motor symptoms follow. A conclusive diagnosis begins with motor symptoms like:
- Tremors: Shaking begins in the hands, fingers, or chin. It may start with minor tremors, like a single finger shaking at rest.
- Small handwriting: Another motor symptom is shrinking handwriting, often called micrographia. Writing may become more cramped, and letter sizes decrease.
- Trouble moving: Many people with PD report that it feels like their feet are stuck to the floor when trying to move or walk. These symptoms may begin with something small, like hip or shoulder stiffness.
- Stooping or hunching: Another motor symptom is losing the ability to stand up straight. Muscle control along the back and neck cause this changed posture.
- Masked face: You may also notice a permanently mad or depressed expression. This symptom occurs due to difficulty controlling facial muscles.
- Voice changes: Trouble controlling the vocal cords may lead to a breathy or hoarse voice. While many minor illnesses can affect the voice, long-term changes in how someone sounds may indicate a deeper cause, like PD.
What to Do When You Identify Parkinson's Disease Symptoms
A Parkinson's disease diagnosis begins by identifying non-motor and motor symptoms. Older adults may notice these symptoms in themselves. Loved ones can also look out for signs. When multiple non-motor signs and a few motor symptoms appear, you can discuss your concerns with a general practitioner.
A general practitioner can refer you to a neurologist with special training in movement disorders. These professionals use neurological histories and an in-office exam to test for Parkinson's disease. They may also order imaging to confirm the diagnosis.
Living With Parkinson's Disease
When you or a loved one gets a Parkinson's disease diagnosis, you may want to find resources on how life will change with physical symptoms and other adjustments that might occur. Despite the uncertainty, you can live a fulfilling life with PD.
Determine Personal Priorities
Many older adults with Parkinson's disease maintain their quality of life and do what they love despite encountering physical and emotional challenges. After a diagnosis, take time to think about the activities that bring you the most joy. Once you establish your priorities, you can work these activities into your daily life.
Stay Connected With a Strong Network
Older adults who encounter physical challenges and mental symptoms like depression often find sharing their struggles with others beneficial. Maintain communication with partners and loved ones so you have a support system you can lean on during your emotional journey. You may even connect with others with the same disease who share your experiences.
Establish Healthy Routines
Living a healthy lifestyle can manage symptoms and help older adults live well with Parkinson's disease, especially in these three areas:
- Eating habits: Discover foods that maintain energy, keep bones healthy, and improve medication delivery.
- Rest: Take note of changing energy levels and let your body recover after activities, preserving energy for the things you love.
- Physical activity: Staying active improves balance, mobility, depression, and constipation.
When establishing new routines, consider activities like biking, yoga, or tai chi to stay active while managing energy levels and movement.
Get Expert Medical Advice
Find a doctor specializing in PD who can give you advice on managing symptoms. Building a knowledgeable care team gives older adults with Parkinson's disease and their loved ones someone to turn to for medical advice. A specialist can also suggest lifestyle adaptations and select medications to manage symptoms.
Use a Medical Alert for Added Peace of Mind
Living life to the fullest with Parkinson's disease begins with developing confidence. Older adults with PD may hesitate to do activities they often did before. Loved ones may also desire peace of mind when caring for those with the condition.
Medical Guardian offers a wide range of medical alert systems with customizable features that create freedom with added protection. Whether you are seeking a diagnosis or have a family member who was recently diagnosed, explore our devices to find the best option for your needs.