April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month…
Did you know that there are approximately 1,000,000 people living with Parkinson’s disease in the United States right now? And did you know that another 60,000 are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year? Unfortunately these statistics are a reality facing many families.
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder that affects the nervous system as neurons in the brain breakdown or die, causing a decrease in dopamine production. According to Mayo Clinic research, the reduction in dopamine levels cause abnormal brain function which, in turn, causes impaired movement and other related symptoms. Currently there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease so those affected must manage the symptoms through medication and, in some cases, surgery.
Identifying Parkinson’s disease in its’ early stage is not always easy. The disease affects more men than women, and onset usually occurs in people over 60 years of age. The earliest signs are usually mild and may go unnoticed; these include:
- Showing very little facial expressions
- Arms do not swing naturally when walking
- Speech may become quiet or words may be slurred
These symptoms become progressively worse over time, and other symptoms may become noticeable:
- Tremors or shaking (usually in hand or fingers) even when at rest
- Bradykinesia or slow movement, dragging feet, smaller steps, gait affected
- Muscle rigidity or stiffness limiting motion
- Loss of automatic movements (blinking, smiling, swinging arms while walking are no longer unconscious movements)
- Speech changes (usually to very soft or slurred speech without animation)
- Writing changes (becomes smaller)
An initial diagnosis may be made by your primary care physician if 2 of 4 main symptoms are present over a period of time. The 4 main symptoms being:
- Slowness of movement
- Stiffness in muscles
- Balance problems/ falls
Once an initial diagnosis is made, you should consult a neurologist that specializes in movement disorders. Because there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, the neurologist will help you manage your symptoms, usually with medication.
People living with Parkinson’s disease can experience additional complications that include:
- Trouble thinking clearly ( sometimes leading to dementia in later stages)
- Problems swallowing (and chewing)
- Sleep disorders
- Bladder issues (incontinence or difficulty urinating)
- Blood pressure issues (rapid drop when one stands up)
- Sense of smell affected
- Chronic pain
- Sexual dysfunction
- Hallucinations (with Lewy body disease)
It should be noted that some medications can make symptoms worse, such as antipsychotic meds, valproic acid, lithium, anti-nausea meds and should not be started before consulting your neurologist. Having Parkinson’s disease can increase one’s risk for melanoma, neurogenic orthostatic hypotension (chronic blood pressure drop when changing from sitting to standing), and pseudobulbar affect (involuntary outbursts of crying or laughing unconnected to emotional state). Again, consult your neurologist to determine best course of treatment if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
Researchers still struggle to identify the cause of Parkinson’s disease. Some feel genetic factors are responsible, but there is growing support suggesting environmental factors, such as exposure to toxins and other chemicals, that trigger the disease. There are no proven ways to prevent Parkinson’s disease. Some research suggests that exercise is helpful. Additional research suggests people who consume caffeine may have a lower incidence of Parkinson’s disease than people who do not consume caffeine. As with other health concerns, it is always beneficial to keep active (physically and mentally), and eat well to give yourself the best opportunity for a long and healthy life.
If you or someone you know is struggling with everyday tasks because of Parkinson’s disease, help at home might be the answer. Call us at (941) 882-2203 for more information!!