The month of April marks Parkinson’s Awareness Month and provides a great opportunity to learn more about the disease. According to the National Institute on Aging, Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a brain disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness, difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination. PD is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects the area of the brain that controls movement. Parkinson’s can cause changes within the brain that can begin to interfere with cognition, judgement, posture and facial expressions.
Parkinson’s disease is common among older adults, in fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, PD affects nearly two percent of older adults over the age of 65 and is the second most common age-related neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease. While the symptoms of PD can look different depending on the individual, there are some commonalities in most cases of Parkinson’s.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Symptoms of PD can begin gradually and often get worse as the disease progresses. However, in the beginning stage of the disease, the symptoms can be so subtle that they often go unnoticed. People with PD may have difficulty walking and talking, and also experience mental and behavioral changes, such as depression and fatigue. According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms can include the following:
- Tremor. A tremor, or shaking, usually begins in a limb, often your hand or fingers. You may rub your thumb and forefinger back and forth, known as a pill-rolling tremor. Your hand may tremble when it’s at rest.
- Slowed movement (bradykinesia). Over time, Parkinson’s disease may slow your movement, making simple tasks difficult and time-consuming. Your steps may become shorter when you walk. It may be difficult to get out of a chair. You may drag your feet as you try to walk.
- Rigid muscles. Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body. The stiff muscles can be painful and limit your range of motion.
- Impaired posture and balance. Your posture may become stooped, or you may have balance problems as a result of Parkinson’s disease.
- Loss of automatic movements. You may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling or swinging your arms when you walk.
- Speech changes. You may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before talking. Your speech may be more of a monotone rather than have the usual inflections.
- Writing changes. It may become hard to write, and your writing may appear small.
Causes and Risk Factors
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “there are no biomarkers or objective screening tests that indicate one has Parkinson’s disease.” However, there are some environmental and genetic factors that are linked to this disease. In addition, researchers have suggested that some specific genetic mutations are directly related to Parkinson’s disease. Experts believe that the majority of Parkinson’s cases are caused by a combination of environmental exposure, such as pollution and pesticides, and genetic makeup. While researchers are still gathering data on the causes and risk factors of the disease, here’s what we do know:
Age. The biggest risk factor for developing Parkinson’s disease is progressing age. Most people begin recognizing symptoms of PD at 60.
Gender. Men are more are 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with PD than women.
Genetics. Those with a family history of Parkinson’s disease are more likely to develop the disease compared to those who no family history of the disease.
Environmental causes. Medical experts believe that exposure to toxins, especially farming chemicals and heavy metals, detergents, and solvents are linked to the disease. However, it is unlikely that most people who develop Parkinson’s disease do so primarily due to environmental toxins.
Head trauma. Repeated head traumas, due to sport injuries or accidents, have also been linked to Parkinson’s disease. However, researchers are still studying the impact of head trauma on the development of Parkinson’s disease. While experts aren’t sure if head trauma can cause PD, there is thought that two could be related.
Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease
Treatment for Parkinson’s disease is usually based on an individual’s symptoms, as there is no medication to reverse the effects of the disease. Treatments often include a variety of medications designed to manage tremors, stress, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. Lifestyle changes are also suggested to help minimize symptoms. Exercise and therapies to help improve flexibility and balance, and reduce rigidity are often helpful for PD patients.
In more severe cases, surgery can be a helpful treatment option. Depending on the individual, lesion surgery, deep brain stimulation and neural grafting or tissue transplants can provide comfort and help ease the symptoms. It’s important to remember that surgery is designed to help with symptoms, but cannot reverse the effects of the disease or stop its progression.
Navigating Life with Parkinson’s
Receiving a Parkinson’s diagnosis can be difficult for everyone involved. As part of the diagnosis, the biggest challenges can be managing overall health and wellness including managing medication appropriately, getting enough exercise while remaining flexible, and managing stress and anxiety. Managing Parkinson’s can feel like a full-time job. Transitioning into a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) can help carry the burden of the disease by providing additional support and high-quality medical care. Here are a few ways CCRCs can help manage life with Parkinson’s disease:
Health and wellness-One of the most important elements in maintaining independence with a Parkinson’s diagnosis is to focus on overall health and wellness. CCRCs can provide medical teams to help with medication managements, individualized care, and provide nutritionally balanced and healthy meals.
Physical exercise- Experts recommend consistent exercise routines for those living with Parkinson’s. Physical activity can help slow down the progression of the disease and improve motor function. Most retirement communities have recreation facilities that offer daily group exercise classes and individual fitness programs to help increase flexibility.
Support groups- Stress and anxiety can actually make Parkinson’s symptoms worse. CCRCs can help manage stress by offering support groups, individual counseling, music therapy and social programs.
Managing Parkinson’s at The Knolls of Oxford
Those who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease are likely to need both physical and emotional support. At The Knolls of Oxford, our staff are highly skilled in caring for those with Parkinson’s in many ways, such as providing medical attention and offering activities designed to promote physical and mental wellness. If you’re interested in learning more about our offerings, please contact us!