Parkinson’s Disease

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Did you know it’s estimated that about 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s Disease? Let’s talk a little bit about it and what it is and how to recognize early signs.

Welcome to the Senior Circle, where we hope to inspire and help others by providing valuable, relevant information related to caring for an elderly loved one. Hi, my name is Dawn Neely and I’ll be your host. Thank you for joining us.

Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative disorder that affects each person differently. There’s no test to diagnose Parkinson’s Disease. So, diagnosis is typically based on medical history, along with physical and neurological exams. It’s incurable and very devastating to those coping with the disease and their loved ones.

With sometimes very subtle symptoms, it can be easy to miss. In the case of Parkinson’s, the earlier it’s diagnosed, the easier it is to manage the progression of the disease through medication and surgical procedures.

Surprisingly, something that suggests the possibility of early Parkinson’s, is a sudden change in the size of handwriting. People with Parkinson’s have a hard time controlling movement due to the changes in the brain. This can make the motor, the fine motor skills like writing more difficult. Has your loved one’s handwriting gotten much smaller than it was in the past. You may notice the way they write words on a page has changed such as letter sizes are smaller, and the words are crowded together. A change in handwriting may be a sign to Parkinson’s Disease called Micrographia.

Tremor is the most recognizable sign of Parkinson’s. A slight twitching or shaking of a finger, hand or foot is common. The person experiencing the tremor will likely be the first to notice. However, as the disease progresses, the tremors will become noticeable to others. There are other reasons though that we shake. Shaking can be normal after lots of exercise, if you’re stressed or if you’ve been injured. It could also be caused by a medication that you take.

Have you noticed you or a loved one, no longer smell certain foods very well? If there seems to be more difficulty in smelling foods like bananas, dill pickles or licorice, you should ask your doctor about Parkinson’s. Now your sense of smell can be changed by a cold, a flu or stuffy nose, but it should come back when you’re better.

Another thing to look for, is difficulty with sleeping. Early signs include uncontrollable movement on a regular basis during sleep. Kicking, thrashing and falling out of bed can be an indication of a serious problem. It’s normal for everyone to have a night when they toss and turn or experience quick jerks of the body when initially falling asleep, but more severe movement could be an issue.

Is there stiffness in the body, arms or legs? Does your loved one’s arms not swing like they used to when they walk? Sometimes stiffness goes away as one moves around, but if it doesn’t, it could be a sign of Parkinson’s Disease. There could be stiffness or pain in your shoulder or hips. People sometimes say their feet seem like they’re stuck to the floor. We cared for a gentleman once a really lovely man named John and John had Parkinson’s disease. And one of the most interesting things that I found about the whole situation, was during our assessment, he indicated to me that I might have to clap at him. And I thought, what? Clap at you? And he said, “Well, what happens is, sometimes I bend over to, for example, tie my shoe, and something happens between the brain and my movement, and I get stuck. I get stuck in that position and my brain just can’t react. So all it takes, is a quick, it’s loud and somehow it triggers the brain.” And when he hears that, he’s able to react and continue moving on. I found that fascinating. Parkinson’s mainly affects those adults over 60 years of age. Most adults feel stiffness and a slowing down at this age. The difference with Parkinson’s, is that the stiffness and the slowness doesn’t go away as you get up and start your day.

People in early stages of Parkinson’s, often speak in low tones, a hoarse voice, or with little inflection. This is something to take note of, especially if it doesn’t resolve relatively quickly.

Parkinson’s can affect the natural facial expressions. People often comment that some individuals have a blank stare, which is often called masking. If your loved one seems to have developed a tendency to have a serious, depressed or angry look on their face, it could be a sign of Parkinson’s.

If your loved one seems to be stooping, leaning or slouching when they stand, it could also be a sign of the disease. Posture will change in small ways at first and then gradually worsen as the disease progresses.

What can you do if you have Parkinson’s Disease? Work with your doctor to come up with a plan to stay healthy. It could consist of the following:

  • a referral to a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in the brain
  • receiving care from an occupational therapist, physical therapist, or speech therapist
  • meeting with a medical social worker to talk about how Parkinson’s will affect your life

It’s important to start a regular exercise program to delay further symptoms and talk with family and friends who can provide you with the support you need. It is our honor at Seniors Helping Seniors to assist seniors that have many different needs, including Parkinson’s. If you have questions or would like to discuss caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s Disease, feel free to contact us 248-969-4000.

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