Parkinson’s Disease – What You Need to Know
Who gets Parkinson’s?
Each year, in the United States, it is estimated that 100,000 new cases of Parkinson’s Disease (PD) are diagnosed. Add to that the other 1.5 million Americans currently living with PD and you might begin to wonder, "will I be next?"
PD affects both men and women almost equally, it knows no economic, ethnic or geographic boundaries and with an average age of onset of 62, it can be really hard to pinpoint who exactly is at risk. If you have a strong family history of PD, then you are at an even higher risk of developing PD and should take preventative steps as soon as possible.
How is PD diagnosed?
Before full-blown PD is obvious in a person, there are some risk factors you should keep an eye out for. These include but are not limited to a loss of sense of smell, constipation and sleep disorders such as REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD).
As mentioned earlier, a long family history of PD can assist physicians in diagnosing the disease.
A resting tremor along with unilateral onset can also be an early motor sign of PD development. Blood tests and MRIs are useful for ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms associated with PD can be classified into two major categories, motor and non-motor:
Many well-known motor symptoms include a resting tremor, decreased balance, delayed reflexes, a stooped posture, reduced gait and shuffled walk.
Non-motor symptoms include, but are not limited to depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, memory loss and hallucinations.
As with any other medication, each drug has its pros and cons, and drugs that treat PD are no different.
Most of them are designed to treat the dopamine system in the brain. Some help prevent the breakdown of dopamine producing cells, while others help stimulate production.
Every person is different, so no one drug will work for everyone. Check with your physician to see what regiment options are available to you.
Exercise and fitness
The human body is incredibly complex and filled with specialized muscles, tendons and ligaments that allow us to do everything from jogging to yoga.
When PD hits however, everything that used to come easily, no longer does so. Depending on how far along the disease has progressed, walking, bicycling and even certain types of dancing can help improve balance, gait, flexibility and motor coordination.
Helpful Tip: The use of hiking poles while walking has been shown to help PD patients with a freezing gait to prolong their exercise.
Practical Tips to Overcoming Movement Challenges
What gets in the way?
When someone is living with PD, we sometimes tend to forget how much harder simple activities become for them.
We fail to realize that their brain-to-muscle communication is no longer functioning as it should.
This means that when their intention is to smile or thank you, the loss of fine motor articulation can cause their face to freeze and have them come off as stern or upset. Don’t take it the wrong way, they’re doing the best they can with what they have left.
Rhythm and movement
Think of how hard it can be to get going in the morning sometimes. Now imagine that being the case all day, every day.
Unfortunately, one thing that PD robs people of is the ability to start and stop at will. Assisting in the mechanics of ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) are a great way to help when that happens. Not only does it provide much needed transitional help from one activity to another, but it is also a great way to strengthen the bond between you and the person living with PD.
Another Helpful Tip: Mix things up! Talking and singing along with other rhythmic movements have shown to improve certain symptoms related to PD.
Building effective care skills
One of the best ways to build a warm, supportive care environment is to use effective, positive cues. For example, big, visual prompts are more likely to achieve the preferred response when PD causes a person to freeze or when they can’t seem to get going again.
Visualizing what you want them to do can have a powerful effect. This emphasizes another key fact about caregiving: teamwork. By making sure you are aware of their limitations, you can always be there to compensate for what they no longer have.