Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system. People who are diagnosed with the disease suffer from many movement disabilities including poverty of movement, involuntary shaking, muscle rigidity, and an unstable posture. The disease is a result of the death of dopamine producing cells in the substantia nigra of the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends signals through the nerves throughout the body. Without dopamine, a person is unable to move their limbs and body voluntarily and will suffer neurological affects such as dementia, depression and attention deficit disorder. Patients with Parkinson’s disease lose their dopamine-producing cells, and thus, overtime will have less and less dopamine in their bloodstream. The loss of the vital neurotransmitter will cause patients to present with the previously mentioned symptoms. As their disease progresses they may also experience neurological symptoms such as dementia and depression. Patients who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease often try a variety of drug therapies that will increase the dopamine in their bloodstream. These medications will reduce their symptoms, but cannot reverse the progression of the disease. Even though the disease’s progression cannot be reversed, it is still vital to catch Parkinson’s disease early in order to reduce their symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Here are seven early warning signs of Parkinson’s disease so that you can be on the lookout for you or your elderly loved ones.
Changes in Handwriting
Fine motor skills are often the first thing that is affected in patients with Parkinson’s disease. If you notice a change in your handwriting, then you may be losing slight control over your fine motor skills. Patients with Parkinson’s disease tend to have small handwriting that appears very cramped and jumbled. As they write letters, their handwriting may start out normal, but then it will grow smaller as they continue writing.
Trembling or shaking hands or fingers is definitely an early sign of Parkinson’s disease. If you have been exercising, using your hands often, or are fatigued then small trembles are normal. However, if you notice that your hands shake often, talk with your doctor.
Everyone experiences sleeping issues every once in a while, however people with Parkinson’s disease often complain about sleeping pattern disruptions due to involuntary movements. If you are waking up often in the middle of the night due to shaking legs or flailing, then talk with your doctor. Another early sign of Parkinson’s disease is falling out of the bed. Patients with the disease may have involuntary muscle movements in their sleep and roll off of their mattress. Kicking is another warning sign, however if you do not sleep with a partner, you may not be aware of your kicking.
If your muscles feel stiff and fatigued a lot, then it may be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease. Patients with the disease often will feel a stiffness and soreness in their muscles that causes them to slow their movements. Waking up with stiff muscles is normal if the stiffness goes away with movement. However, if the pain stays with you all day, every day; then talk with your doctor. Pain, stiffness and fatigue in your muscles that is severe enough to slow your movements can be serious and can be an early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease.
Changes in Smell
A loss of smell is a common warning sign for Parkinson’s disease. Most patients who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease do not smell as well as they did when they were younger. The reason for this is still unknown; however, loss of smell is still a common early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease. If you have been experiencing a loss of smell, or have noticed that your food tastes very differently, then consult with your doctor.
Masking is an early sign of Parkinson’s disease that causes patients to always have a blank stare on their face. The disease can affect a person’s facial muscles and facial expressions. As the dopamine receptors begin to die away, patients can lose the ability to keep their facial expressions. Patients often present with a very serious look on their face all of the time, even if they are in a good mood. If you have noticed that your facial expression has changed lately, or if people have commented on your serious disposition, then contact your doctor.
Loss of movement and tremors will not occur overnight in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Instead, symptoms appear gradually. Loss of posture is one of the earliest warning signs of the disease. As patients begin to lose dopamine in their bloodstream, they will lose the control of the small muscles in their back, neck and shoulders. Patients with Parkinson’s will begin to present with a slouching posture while they are sitting and standing. This often causes back, neck and shoulder pain. If you notice that your posture has changed to the point where you are feeling pain in your back then talk with your doctor.
It has been estimated that most patients with Parkinson’s disease have had the disease for ten years before they are diagnosed. This means that their disease has had ten years to progress. By the time many patients are diagnosed, they have already lost much of their dopamine producing cells. Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease do not appear overnight. Subtle changes occur in patients for many years, and many people ignore the symptoms as common consequences of growing older. However, it is important that you speak with your doctor about all of your symptoms. It is vital to catch Parkinson’s disease as early as possible to reduce the rate of its progression. Look out for these early warning signs of Parkinson’s disease and talk to your doctor if you notice any of them in your own life. Being diagnosed with the disease is not a death sentence, and the earlier you are diagnosed, the easier it will be to treat your symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
Check the following post in our blog on Parkinson’s disease:
- Common Nutritional Concerns for People with Parkinson’s disease
- Tips on How to Care for an Elderly Person with Parkinson’s disease
- Understanding Parkinson’s disease and how homecare services can help