Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition that gradually gets more pronounced over time, and so the early stages can be easy to dismiss as typical signs of aging. The disease affects the dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra area of the brain, and presents in different ways for different people. A definitive cause of Parkinson’s is still yet to be determined, and there are no known cures. However, there are certain therapeutic treatments such as dopaminergic medications that can help prolong your quality of life.
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Here are the most common early signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s to watch out for. Note, having a single one of these signs isn’t necessarily cause to worry. However, if you have several, you should make an appointment with your health care provider to investigate further. Earlier diagnosis and tailored treatments can help slow down the progression of this disease.
Tremors and Shaking
This is the hallmark symptom of Parkinson’s that everyone knows about. Perhaps a finger or toe twitches, you face flutters oddly or your arm motions without your control. Before you panic, there could lots of reasons for these involuntary tremors, such as muscle fatigue after exercise or a side effect of medication. It’s worth bringing this to your doctor’s attention, though, as it can be a telltale sign of Parkinson’s. Better to go through some tests to, hopefully, rule it out than to ignore it and have things progress.
If you notice your handwriting is changing, especially if letters are getting smaller or words are being squished together, this could be a sign of Parkinson’s called micrographia. There could be other reasons why your handwriting alters as you age, such as joint pain in your fingers or vision decline, but it is something to be aware of and to discuss with your doctor.
Loss of Smell
It’s not uncommon to temporarily lose some sense of smell if you have a cold or flu. However, if you continue to have trouble smelling strong scents like pungent food or perfume over time without any congestion, you should mention it to you health care provider as it might point to Parkinson’s.
Here’s a symptom that most seniors complain about at some point in their aging journey. So many health concerns can affect our ability to sleep soundly and sufficiently. With Parkinson’s, it’s often due to sudden body movements or leg thrashing jarring you out of your slumber. Another odd sleep challenge that affects some people with Parkinson’s is an attempt to act out dreams when in deep sleep. You or your bed mate should make note of these kinds of incidents and bring them up at your next doctor’s visit.
Aches, pains and mobility challenges describe a whole host of senior ailments, but pay attention to the kind of stiffness you are experiencing, especially in your hips and shoulders. With Parkinson’s, your arms might swing awkwardly when you walk. Some people describe it like their feet are stuck to the floor, and so their steps become shuffled.
Straining to move your bowels can be a common early sign of Parkinson’s disease, so it’s worth talking to your doctor about it. Constipation is often present before the telltale tremors begin, so it can be an important diagnostic clue. Try upping your water and fiber intake to see if bathroom issues resolve, but if it goes on for longer than a week or two, it’s time to seek a consultation.
Are friends and family noticing your voice tone has become soft or low, almost hoarse sounding? Perhaps you think your partner is becoming hard of hearing, but in fact, your voice is becoming quieter. Vocal changes like this could be an early sign of Parkinson’s. It could just be a cold or sore throat, but it’s best to have things checked out.
Facial masking is when your expression looks blank, lifeless, depressed or even angry without the accompanying emotion to justify it. Make note if people keep asking you why you’re in a bad mood or if you’re okay when you feel just fine. Unblinking eyes and a listless, expressionless face could be an early signal Parkinson’s.
Do you tend to get dizzy or feel faint when you get out of a chair or stand up after sleeping? This is a common symptom for lots of conditions, so don’t immediately assume it’s Parkinson’s. This is usually caused by low blood pressure which, among other things, can be an early sign of the disease so if it is a regular occurrence, have your doctor investigate.
If you notice you are slouching, stooping or hunching more than your usual gait, or if friends and family notice this change, talk to your doctor. It could be arthritis, osteoporosis or lots of other conditions common with aging, but it could also be an early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease.