5 Things to Know about Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease is a condition that affects more than 10 million people worldwide, and coverage around it often focusses on the negative impact it has on people and their families. While life will undoubtably change with a Parkinson’s diagnosis, it can still continue to be joyful and rewarding.
At Promedica24, we believe that raising awareness and changing attitudes can play its part in helping people live with the diagnosis. Knowing what to expect, and what support is available, as early as possible can be crucial. Let’s take a look at the most important things to know about Parkinson’s.
1) Anyone can get Parkinson’s
While it is most common in the elderly, Parkinson’s affects people of all ages. About 5% of people are diagnosed before they turn 50. This early-onset form could be genetic, and has been linked to certain gene mutations. However, most forms of Parkinson’s are not believed to be hereditary, so it’s unlikely you’ll pass it on to your children. More research is being done every day, and there is even genetic testing available to scan for mutations that may increase your chances of developing the disease.
2) Parkinson’s begins in the brain
Parkinson’s is what’s called a neurodegenerative disorder, meaning that it affects neurons, the brain’s nerve cells, and progresses over time. The gradual loss of those neurons results in a reduction in chemicals like dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical used to send messages from the brain to the body that help control movement. Anything from walking and talking to writing and even smiling relies on dopamine levels in the brain. When dopamine levels get too low to send enough signals, symptoms of Parkinson’s develop.
Some research seems to indicate that exercise can slow down progression of the disease. Movements that encourage balance and coordination can protect the neurons in your brain and help to form new connections, as well as keep old connections intact.
3) Physical symptoms can take a while to develop
Many people live years with the condition before receiving a diagnosis. That’s because physical symptoms develop only when enough neurons have ceased functioning to affect dopamine levels to a significant degree. However, because dopamine also plays an important part in regulating mood, some people may experience mood disorders like depression a few years before they notice other symptoms. But, since the exact causes of Parkinson’s disease are still being researched, symptoms can be hard to pin down. Everybody’s brains are different and unique, so the way in which the disease manifests itself in people can vary greatly. This is especially true in the early stages. The most well-known early symptom of Parkinson’s is a slight tremor. These tremors are often first noticed in a single hand or finger, but can also appear in the jaw or feet. They will spread to both sides of the body over time. Other symptoms can include muscle stiffness, slow movement, struggling with balance, or less unconscious movement like blinking or smiling. People may also develop insomnia if their symptoms disrupt sleep.
In the beginning stages, symptoms develop slowly and gradually, so you may not notice them right away. However, early diagnosis and treatment is key. If you or a loved one start displaying symptoms, however slight, you should seek medical advice. Your GP will likely refer you to a specialist, like a neurologist. They will support you in managing the disease so you can continue to live a long and happy life.
4) There is no need to leave home
Especially in the earlier stages, most people are able to continue living as normally as before, with a combination of medication and other measures of symptom control. Parkinson’s tends to progress slowly, so you may have years between your diagnosis and requiring complex or nursing care. You may need additional support as the disease progresses and symptoms become more severe, for example for dressing and bathing. Although full-time care may become a necessity eventually, that does not mean you have to leave your home. For example, the support of a live-in carer can ensure you maintain as much independence as possible.
5) You will have time to adjust to your “new normal”
Your life will not change overnight once you receive your diagnosis. Initially, you will be able to adapt your behaviour in ways that will be unnoticeable to others. Examples could be not filling your glass all the way to avoid spills, or taking more time to write notes by hand (or switching to a laptop or tablet) if your handwriting becomes less legible.
While you will eventually require support, your needs will vary. For example, your mobility may be lower in the mornings and better in the evenings. You will have time to get used to the idea of having a carer to support you, learn to develop new routines, and adapt them if your needs change. Regular exercise can help improve mobility and strengthen your muscles as well as alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. A good exercise routine can help you live more comfortably and improve your health overall, so it is important to stay active. There are also exercise groups specifically for people with Parkinson’s. Your GP, social worker, or care worker can help you get in contact with them.
With the right support and treatment, you can continue to be active, social, and involved in the things you love. A care worker or live-in companion can help you maintain as much independence as possible, so you can live with your diagnosis, and still enjoy life.
Some final thoughts:
Research into Parkinson’s disease is ongoing and ever-evolving. The work done over the past few decades has led to a much greater understanding of the condition and how to live with it. Outcomes for people living with the disease have improved massively, not only due to advances in clinical treatment, but also because awareness has increased throughout the health & social care system. There is a growing number of services to support you in maintaining your independence for as long as possible. Parkinson’s remains a life-changing condition, but a proactive and positive approach, and the right care and support, mean however much life changes, you will still be able to make the most out of it.
Get in touch for more information or to find support in your local area.