Ten Early Signs of Parkinson’s disease

Handwriting can be an early identifier for Parkinson’s disease.

Occasionally we may see a person with tremors, twitching, or shaking of the hands or other parts of the body. Some of us immediately jump to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s based on that single symptom. Yet, there may be other more subtle signs that could help identify a health problem much earlier.

Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder. It attacks the elderly more than those under 50 years of age. It is estimated that one percent of Americans over the age of 65 have Parkinson’s disease.

Main Symptoms

Parkinson’s disease can take years to develop from very imperceptible warnings into full-blown life-limiting symptoms. A few people advance rapidly from nearly nonexistent symptoms to undeniable Parkinson’s disease (PD). Some people can live near-normal lives for many years with early signs of PD.

The two major categories of PD are motor skills and non-motor skill problems. Motor skill symptoms interrupt a person’s ability to maintain steady control. Non-motor skill difficulties involve pain, loss of smell, and dementia. https://www.webmd.com/parkinsons-disease/guide/parkinsons-disease-progression#1

Other Early Warning Signs

A recent article in Medical News Today highlighted over one dozen early signs of PD. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324087. A few of those early PD signals include difficulty walking, cramped or smaller handwriting, loss of smell, sleeping problems, balance and movement challenges.

A shuffling gait is observed when a person walks unusually slowly or drags his or her feet. There are times that the normal gait might be faster and then slower within a short period of time.
Cramped handwriting is called micrographia. Doctors believe that neurodegenerative diseases like PD interfere with the person’s ability to write normally. Letters become smaller or shoved together.

Hyposmia is the term used for loss of smell. This appears to be a symptom of COVID-19 also. Most PD patients experience loss of smell. It is not unusual for this symptom to appear early on – even before motor skill issues.

Do not jump to conclusions if a person cannot detect a common aroma, identify a smell, or even tell the difference between odors. There are many causes of hyposmia. It is also prevalent with patients having Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

Fatigue, insomnia, sleep apnea, nightmares, and more plague many people, especially as they age. https://www.aafp.org/afp/1999/0501/p2551.html. A simple sleep issue does not quantifiably identify early PD. But it is an arrow in the quiver for a physician to use to diagnose a potential disease.

Inside our brains are nerve cells that control balance and flexibility. Neurological diseases can affect that part of the brain resulting in balance and movement issues.

Healthy people can lose their balance – it is not uncommon. However, balance is recovered rapidly – within a step or two for most. PD inhibits the ability to regain balance. Doctors can measure the time for balance recovery and use that in the determination of their diagnosis.

We may see an older person take a bit longer to get going. It is almost as if they need a second or two head start to make their muscles do what they want them to do. To the inexperienced eye, we might assume that they have weak muscles. The slowness of movement might be attributed to bradykinesia which is not the same thing as muscle weakness.

Other Early Insights

Two other symptoms that might help medical professionals diagnose PD early are facial masking and vocal changes. Facial masking means that PD patients have difficulty controlling their facial expressions.

It is not uncommon to have facial masking and bradykinesia at the same time. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Symptoms/Facial-Masking One observable symptom of facial masking is a noticeable slowness when blinking the eyes.

Changes in the volume or quality of speaking can be an early sign of PD. It might manifest in a monotonous tone or a fading away of volume at the end of sentences.

Conclusion

One or two symptoms generally do not define a disease. When several are present, the diagnosis of the disease becomes easier. The earlier a disease, especially one that can become debilitating, the better the quality of life can be maintained.

I am an advocate for annual physicals. If you do not have a baseline of your health over time, how would you know if it is changing – and, more importantly, to catch it in time to make a difference. Quality of life is super critical as we age.

Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin – RedOLaughlin.com

 


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