Know the Early Signs of Parkinson’s Disease

Man in doctor's office talking with female doctor

Medical research is getting us closer to solving the riddles of uncurable diseases. Although a cure cannot come soon enough for those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, cancer, or Parkinson’s disease, progress is encouraging. Advances in early detection of a disease, which can save so many more lives than treatment, are the most heartening.

In fact, Parkinson’s researchers announced a significant discovery last year. They discovered a tool, called αSyn-SAA, that detects the signs of Parkinson’s disease in the spinal fluid. The test works on people who have been diagnosed with PD as well as those “who have not yet been diagnosed or shown clinical symptoms of the disease, but are at a high risk of developing it,” according to an article from the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

That’s potentially great news for millions of people. In honor of April being Parkinson’s Awareness month, we are sharing the early signs of Parkinson’s disease, as identified by the Parkinson’s Foundation. The signs can be quite subtle and may often be overlooked since they can be common to other conditions or mistaken for normal aging. Here’s how each symptom may reflect the onset of Parkinson’s disease:

  1. Tremor: One of the most recognized signs of Parkinson’s disease is a slight tremor or shaking, often in a finger, hand, or leg when it’s at rest. This is caused by the disruption in communication between the brain and muscles, a hallmark of Parkinson’s.
  1. Small handwriting: Changes in handwriting, such as writing becoming smaller and more cramped, known as micrographia, can occur. This change is due to the decreased ability to control movement, affecting fine motor skills.
  1. Loss of smell: Many people with Parkinson’s notice a decline in their sense of smell, sometimes years before the motor symptoms appear. The exact reason is still a subject of research.
  1. Trouble sleeping: PD affects the brain’s sleep-wake cycle. This may result in difficulty staying asleep, restless legs, and REM sleep behavior disorder, where the person acts out dreams.
  1. Trouble moving or walking: Parkinson’s can cause a feeling of stiffness in the limbs or trunk that doesn’t go away with movement, and a decrease in the natural swing of the arms when walking. This is due to a reduction in dopamine, which coordinates smooth and balanced muscle movements.
  1. Constipation: A common early sign, often occurring well before the diagnosis, is due to the slower movement of the digestive tract.
  1. Soft or low voice: PD affects the muscles that control speech, leading to changes in the voice’s volume and tone, making it sound softer or more monotone.
  1. Masked face: Parkinson’s reduces one’s ability to control facial muscles. This can lead to a serious, depressed, or angry look, known as facial masking.
  1. Dizziness or fainting: Feeling dizzy or fainting when standing up, known as orthostatic hypotension, can be a symptom of PD’s effect on blood pressure regulation.
  1. Stooping or hunching over: Posture changes, like stooping or hunching, are common as Parkinson’s affects the balance and reflexes that normally help to maintain an upright posture.

It’s important to note that having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean an individual has Parkinson’s disease, as many of them can be related to other conditions or factors. However, if someone is experiencing multiple symptoms, they should consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the quality of life for someone with Parkinson’s disease.

The LifeCare Advocates team includes several professionals who serve clients with PD. They include Julianne Barry, LICSW, C-ASWCM, and occupational therapists Amber Koellner, OTR/L and Lynn Miller, MS, OTR/L. Please feel free to contact us to learn more about how we help our clients with PD.

Categories: Parkinson's