More than a million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease, which is characterized by tremor, stiffness of the muscles, and difficulty in initiating movements. It is a disorder of the brain that affects the transmission of messages to the muscles. Parkinson’s disease is progressive, which means that it normally worsens over time, and usually, but not always, develops slowly. There is no known cause for Parkinson’s.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?
- Involuntary movements or tremors—Limbs may exhibit involuntary trembling, which lessens when the person is moving the affected body part. Involuntary hand movements are common, and the person may appear to be “rolling” something between the fingers.
- Rigidity of muscles—Posture may be stiff, with diminished movement of the limbs.
- Shuffling gait—The person may alternate slow and fast steps or have an uneven gait.
- Loss of facial mobility—Lack of mobility may cause the person to appear expressionless.
- Speech difficulties—Speech may be slow and expressionless, and the voice a low-pitched monotone.
- Balance impairment—The person may have a harder time sitting up straight or balancing the torso.
- Deteriorating handwriting—The person’s writing becomes cramped, smaller, and more difficult to read.
How is Parkinson’s disease diagnosed?
There are no diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of Parkinson’s disease. To make a diagnosis, the physician takes a family and health history from the person and performs a thorough physical and neurological examination, observing the person’s movements and muscle function, while ruling out other disorders with similar symptoms. Early diagnosis is important so that appropriate treatment can begin as soon as possible.
Living with Parkinson’s disease
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. With early diagnosis, however, and a treatment plan, Parkinson’s disease symptoms of the disease may be managed or lessened. Treatment depends on each individual’s symptoms and varies widely. However, it may include:
- Lifestyle changes. Rest and stress reduction are also important. Regular exercise can help maintain muscle strength and tone. Your physician may prescribe a special diet to help maintain Parkinson’s patients appropriate weight.
- Medication therapy. There are many approved drugs that may help manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Careful physician supervision is necessary, as doses, side effects, and medications vary from person to person.
- Rehabilitative therapy. Physical, occupational, and speech therapists can assess the patient’s abilities and needs, and provide exercises to help maintain the highest possible range of motion, muscle tone, balance and flexibility, and communication ability. Rehabilitation specialists may also help the patient select appropriate adaptive devices.
Support groups and counseling are available to help the patient and family members deal with the social and emotional impact of Parkinson’s disease and to help patients maintain maximum independence and quality of life.
For More Information
The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation sponsors National Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Visit their website for updates and information about living with Parkinson’s.