What is Parkinson’s Disease? A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Managing the Condition

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Imagine the simple pleasure of walking through a bustling market, surrounded by the enticing aroma of freshly baked goods, fragrant spices, and ripe fruits. But what if, one day, you found yourself unable to enjoy these delightful scents? What if your sense of smell was gone? Unfortunately, this is one of the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease – a debilitating condition affecting millions worldwide.

While many are familiar with the tremors and mobility issues associated with Parkinson’s disease, understanding what Parkinson’s disease is and its early signs, such as losing the sense of smell, is crucial.

In this comprehensive guide to Parkinson’s disease, we’ll explore its symptoms, causes, and how to care for someone living with this complex neurological condition. Read on to gain a deeper understanding of this complex neurological disease and how it impacts the lives of those affected.

Elderly man gardening

Parkinson’s Disease: Understanding Its Complex Neurological Causes and Symptoms

Parkinson’s disease, a progressive and complex neurological condition, uniquely affects each person diagnosed. It is considered a movement disorder that causes movement-related symptoms.

Parkinson’s is caused by impaired nerve cells or when nerve cells die in the brain. Developing Parkinson’s Disease occurs slowly over time and is caused by the gradual loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. The disease impacts the brain cells in an area called the substantia nigra which leads to a reduction in the brain chemical Dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for the control of movement and coordination.

Parkinson’s disease typically affects individuals over the age of 60, although it can also be diagnosed in younger individuals. Men are more commonly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, with some studies suggesting that men are twice as likely to develop the disease as women. While Parkinson’s can affect people of any race or ethnicity, some studies have indicated that it may be more prevalent among specific populations, including European descent.

Overall, Parkinson’s Disease is a complex movement disorder with many different factors that influence its progression. Ongoing Parkinson’s research is required to understand its impact better. Organizations like the Michael J Fox Foundation, the Parkinson’s Foundation, and environmental health sciences research organizations continuously conduct Parkinson’s disease research to understand further, evolve many treatments, and inform the public about the disease.

Elderly Man looking sad

Factors Contributing to Parkinson’s Disease: Exploring the Possible Causes

The actual cause of Parkinson’s Disease is unknown, but it is thought to be linked to genetic and environmental factors. There is no cure for the disease yet, but there are medications to improve symptoms and control symptoms while supporting a better quality of life.

There is no one specific thing that causes Parkinson’s disease, and there are likely many different factors that contribute to its development. Some studies have suggested that exposure to certain environmental toxins or head injuries may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. In contrast, others have pointed to genetic factors, including a family medical history of Parkinson’s disease. Others claim abnormalities in brain cells or proteins can play a role in this progressive disorder.

While the cause of Parkinson’s disease can be challenging to pinpoint, many effective treatments and therapies are available to help manage its symptoms. These may include medications to boost dopamine levels in the brain, physical therapy to improve mobility and coordination, and speech therapy to address communication difficulties.

Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

What Are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

Neurological disorders like Parkinson’s affect the nervous system and are characterized by a range of motor symptoms and non-motor symptoms. There are several common symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. As the disease progresses, individuals with Parkinson’s disease may experience a variety of motor symptoms, including:

1. Motor Symptoms

  • Tremors, or rhythmic shaking: usually begin in a limb, often in the hand or fingers
  • Movement disorder: slower movements or difficulty controlling movement
  • Balance problems: this makes it difficult to perform daily tasks without assistance
  • Muscle rigidity and muscle stiffness: may be painful and limit the full range of motion
  • Loss of automatic movements: blinking or the natural swinging arm motion when walking
  • Sexual dysfunction: Parkinson’s can affect the part of the brain that controls sexual function, and the severity can range from person to person
  • Speech changes like monotone, slurred, or delayed speech
  • Chewing and swallowing difficulties
  • Sleep problems: many experience difficulty sleeping or other sleep problems

2. Non-Motor Symptoms

A person may also experience neuropsychiatric and cognitive, also known as non-motor symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Sleep disorders & fatigue
  • Apathy
  • Dementia or other cognitive symptoms of Parkinson’s

3. Other Symptoms

People with Parkinson’s Disease may also experience automatic nervous system (involuntary movements) changes. Some of these other symptoms include:

  • Blood pressure issues
  • Bladder control issues
  • Constipation due to low mobility
  • Excessive sweating and drooling
  • Lower sexual desire

Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease may experience sensory symptoms too. These could include:

  • Pain
  • Tingling and other sensory phenomena

Early detection and treatment are essential in managing the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and improving the quality of life for those affected by the condition.

Aging mother and daughter

Parkinson’s Disease Stages and Progression

Parkinson’s disease progresses slowly and worsens over time as the disease advances. While Parkinson’s can vary from person to person, the five stages of the disease generally describe how the condition progresses.

  1. Early Stages: this stage can last several years. During this time, a person can experience mild symptoms such as tremors and stiffness on one side of the body, but it may not affect everyday life. At this point, the brain is not producing enough dopamine, and many individuals receive Parkinson’s diagnosis in these early stages.
  2. Mild stage: the second stage is the mild stage of Parkinson’s disease, which can last several years. At this point, Parkinson’s affects muscle rigidity, balance, and coordination, causing difficulty walking and other movement difficulties. During this stage, symptoms may affect both sides of the body, where movement disorder is much more prevalent.
  3. Moderate stage: the third stage of Parkinson’s disease. This can last a few years, where similar symptoms to the mild stage become more pronounced and impact daily life. Individuals may experience more falls, and speech or communication may become more difficult.
  4. Advanced stage: this stage is where a caregiver may come into play. This stage can last several years, and individuals will require assistance with day-to-day activities. Walking may be difficult and independent living may be affected.
  5. End Stage: Unfortunately, this is the most severe stage of the disease, where individuals may be bedridden and require around-the-clock care. A person’s speech may also be severely impacted, and individuals may experience a range of complications related to Parkinson’s disease.

Caregiver and client playing chess

Resources for Understanding and Coping with Parkinson’s Disease

As a Register Nurse, I have cared for many people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in my career. I’ve learned a lot over the years, but I must credit a gentleman named Larry Gifford for sharing his insight and knowledge into this progressive disease.

Larry Gifford is a husband and father who, at the age of 45, was at the top of his game in his radio career until he started dragging his foot. He assumed his weight caused his foot problem. Then when his curious 8-year-old son asked him why his hand shook, he thought he’d better find out why.

After a series of medical tests, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He thought, “Parkinson’s Disease? Isn’t that a disease for seniors?” Although this condition is less likely to be diagnosed in younger people, it still can be.

Larry began a podcast to share his own story and educate the public on Parkinson’s Disease. In his podcast, “When Life Gives You Parkinson’s,” he discusses how the diagnosis of the disease has affected his entire life as a husband, father, son, and brother. He discusses the disease’s impact on his career, trying cannabis as a sleep aid, and his hope for a cure.

He interviews physicians, students, and family. He not only brings you inside his support group, but he also brings you inside his heart to his innermost feelings. It’s brave, bold, and a beautiful foray into a life changed but not without hope and Happier Aging.

Nurse Next Door caregiver and client

Caring for Someone with Parkinson’s Disease: Tips and Resources

An individual with Parkinson’s disease can benefit from having a caregiver in the later stages. As the disease causes motor symptoms to become dysfunction, it becomes increasingly more difficult to perform everyday tasks independently. As the disease progresses, having a caregiver can make a person’s life much better and easier!

Parkinson’s Disease caregivers can assist with a variety of tasks, including:

Caregivers can also provide emotional support and companionship. They are crucial in ensuring the person is always safe and comfortable. Usually, caregivers monitor symptoms, help with transferring or mobility, and limit risk factors in the home, including tripping hazards or safety concerns.

For tips on how to care for someone with Parkinson’s disease, visit our latest article on How to Care for Someone Living With Parkinson’s Disease: Tips for the Parkinson’s Disease Caregiver.

Elderly man and Nurse Next Door caregiver gardening

Advice For Those Caring For Individuals with Parkinson’s

Larry says, “Parkinson’s symptoms evolve from day to day. We want to button our shirts, shave, tie our shoes, and reach a standing position on our own. Some days we can do it, others we struggle, and some days it’s futile.” 

He suggested to caregivers to give them some extra time and space to try and do things. Those with Parkinson’s Disease may get frustrated along the way, but they also value their independence. Patience is essential as the new normal is adopted by each individual.

Taking care of a loved one with Parkinson’s disease can be challenging, but you don’t have to do it all alone. Learn more about home health care options in our article on Home Health Care for Parkinson’s Disease: A Comprehensive Guide. You may need to find the right care partner; that’s where Nurse Next Door comes in. We’re here to support you every step of the way, offering you continuous care or respite services to ensure you can take care of yourself while giving your loved one the highest quality of care possible.

Being present and supportive is the best way to show love and care.

Here are some resources for caregivers of Parkinson’s disease:

Let Nurse Next Door be your care partner! We are here to help you with your Parkinson’s care and support you while your loved one lives at home for as long as possible. We’d love to set up a FREE Caring Consult™ to build a perfect care plan catered to your needs and budget.

Give us a call toll-free at +1(877) 588-8609 to get started!

Looking for more articles about senior health and wellness? Be sure to check out the Caring Blog!

 

Maureen McGrath hosts the Sunday Night Health Show, a live listener call-in radio program on the Corus Radio Network across Western Canada.  

She is a Registered Nurse, a Nurse Continence and Sexual Health Educator.

Her TEDx talk on the No Sex Marriage has received over 17 million views.

She is also the Executive Director of the Women’s Health Initiative Network, an organization to raise awareness about women’s reproductive, bladder, vaginal and sexual health.

She is author of the book, Sex & Health: Why One Can’t Come Without the Other.  

Maureen is the recipient of the 2009 VCH Nursing Excellence Award, a 2013 YWCA Women of Distinction finalist and the 2016 Vancouver Board of Trade Community Catalyst Award. Her website is Back To The Bedroom.  Her blog is 50 Shades of Pink.

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