Parkinson’s Disease is a neurological disease which occurs due to the impairment of neurons responsible for producing dopamine (a neurotransmitter) in the brain. The symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease begin gradually and often go unnoticed due to their subtle nature, causing the disease to remain undiagnosed for years. Since dopamine controls movement and mood, a reduction causes difficulties in basic activities like talking, writing or walking.
Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease can be a complex task because there are a variety of factors that need to be addressed and there is no single diagnostic test to determine its onset. It usually occurs in people over the age of 60, and men, as well as people with a family history of the disease, are at a higher risk of developing it.
We’ve put together a list of early warning signs to look out for:
Stiffness and slow movement
Parkinson’s Disease usually results in rigidness in different parts of the body, limiting mobility. This occurs because the muscles fail to relax normally and can often lead to pain. While many elderly people may face some stiffness when they wake up in the morning, what distinguishes Parkinson’s Disease from normal ageing is that the rigidity continues throughout the day and does not fade away with time.
In addition to the stiffness, a person may also experience slow movements (bradykinesia) and jerky or uncoordinated movements. Getting up from the bed, walking, and even talking might become more challenging as the brain’s capacity to signal other parts of the body diminishes. Bradykinesia can cause a mask-like or expressionless look on a person’s face.
A difference in a person’s walk
One of the early signs of Parkinson’s Disease is changes in the way a person walks. This could involve the arms swinging as a person walks or steps becoming shorter. Additionally, walking around corners might become more of a task as the person feels stuck or glued to the spot.
The medical term for small handwriting is micrographia and this is a common early warning sign of Parkinson’s Disease. Any abrupt changes in handwriting may be an early sign of Parkinson’s Disease and this is caused by a difficulty in controlling movement. Patients might find that their handwriting becomes illegible, with individual letters appearing smaller than usual and increased proximity between words.
Tremors are another familiar warning sign of Parkinson’s Disease and the uncontrolled twitching commonly begins in the arms and hands; in some cases, it occurs in the feet or jaw as well. A person might notice their thumb and forefinger rubbing together; this can happen when a person is rested or stressed. The normal progression of tremors impact only one side of the body and over time they can advance to other parts of the body. In the early stages, the patient is likely the only person who notices the tremors, but as the disease progresses, the tremors will become visible to others too.
Insomnia or trouble falling asleep becomes common in old age. However, if a person is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, then their sleep might be disturbed by constant kicking, thrashing or even falling out of bed. Parkinson’s Disease can lead to a range of uncontrollable movements that can significantly impact the quality of sleep.
A Parkinson’s Disease patient may exhibit a range of symptoms and these often differ from one patient to another. In addition to the signs mentioned above, Parkinson’s Disease may lead to:
Stooped posture and slumped shoulders
Problems with chewing or swallowing
Loss of smell
Confusion, fear or anxiety
Even if you notice these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it is not a definitive sign of Parkinson’s Disease. An expert or specialist is best equipped to make an accurate diagnosis which involves a series of assessments.