Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that causes a gradual loss of muscle control. The average age for a diagnosis is around the age of 62 and an individual diagnosed before the age of 50 would be considered to be suffering from young-onset Parkinson’s disease.
The symptoms of Parkinson’s are both physical and mental but tend to be mild initially which means that diagnosis is often delayed.
If you do have any concerns, look out for the following symptoms:
Tremors or shaking usually begins in the upper limbs (hands or fingers). One characteristic of Parkinson’s disease is a tremor of the hand when it is relaxed (at rest). A back-and-forth rubbing of the thumb and forefinger, which is known as a pill-rolling tremor, is a common sign.
Over a period of time, sufferers may find the ability to move is impaired and movements begin to slow down. This is known as bradykinesia and can make simple tasks more difficult and time-consuming. Typically it may become more difficult to get out of a chair and footsteps will become shorter or a dragging motion on the feet can occur.
Muscle stiffness can occur in any part of the body which reduces the range of motion and can also cause pain.
Impaired posture and balance
Posture can become stooped and keeping balanced can become an issue leading to frequent falls.
Loss of automatic movements
Sufferers often note a decreased ability to make unconscious movements such as blinking, smiling or swinging the arms when walking.
Slurred speech or hesitation can occur and speech tends towards a monotone with little inflexion in the voice. Suddenly beginning to speak very softly can also be an early sign.
It can become difficult to write and control hand movements and often a sufferer’s writing becomes significantly smaller.
Sense of smell loss
Sufferers often note that they can no longer smell items which others would consider strong, or even pungent, smelling.
Regularly having to strain in order to move your bowels can be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease.
Sudden violent movements, during sleep, such as kicking our or thrashing arms can be a sign of Parkinson’s and it is also relatively common to fall out of bed during deep sleep.
Certain lifestyle changes could help with managing some of the symptoms and make living with Parkinson’s easier:
Exercising will increase muscle strength, flexibility and balance and can also improve your well-being and reduce depression or anxiety. Everyday activities such as walking, swimming, dancing and gardening can help to keep muscles more limber. A physical therapist will be able to devise a program which will help your particular physical symptoms.
The following are helpful tips:
- Try not to move too quickly.
- Try to guide your heel to strike the floor first when walking.
- If you find yourself shuffling, stop and check your posture – aim to try and stand up straight.
- Look directly in front of you rather than down at the floor while walking.
In the later stages of the disease, falling over can become a problem – these tips can help:
- Physically make U-turn rather than pivoting your body over your feet.
- Aim to keep your weight distributed evenly between both feet.
- Whenever possible avoid carrying things whilst walking.
- Try to avoid walking backwards.
Freezing can be an issue but there are a few ways to overcome this:
- Focusing attention away from the idea of making your feet move can help – focus on a distant point or use a laser pointer.
- Pretending to step over an object to make the lifting movement more exaggerated can help.
- Making hula hoop hip motions to the left and then the right and back again can help to get moving again.
Although there are no proven combinations of foods which can help with most of the symptoms listed above, one common issue for sufferers of Parkinson’s is constipation. A diet high in fibre plus plenty of fluids can help to alleviate this symptom at least. Sticking to a balanced diet which is high in omega-3 fatty acids is thought to help brain function too.
Although this short list of symptoms and methods of alleviating them is by no means comprehensive, it will hopefully help anyone concerned that they may be showing early signs of Parkinson’s Disease and may even provide a glimmer of hope that there are a few things which can help you to manage the symptoms.