In the U.S. alone, nearly one million people are living with Parkinson’s disease, with 60,000 new cases diagnosed every year. There are more people with Parkinson’s than multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease combined.
Yet, it can be a condition that is difficult to diagnose and hard to spot until serious damage has already occurred. If you’re concerned about a loved one who’s showing potential signs of Parkinson’s, what should you do? Here’s everything you need to know to provide Parkinson’s care.
Early Signs of Parkinson’s Disease
Tremors are one of the most widely recognized signs of Parkinson’s disease. However, up to 30% of patients don’t experience them at the onset of the disease. They come later when the condition has progressed. This progression is different for each individual and can include symptoms such as:
- Small handwriting. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease often experience a condition called “micrographia.” This disorder features abnormally small, cramped handwriting or a quick progression to small handwriting. It is caused by neurodegenerative disorders of the basal ganglia, including Parkinson’s.
- Loss of smell. With the COVID-19 pandemic, loss of smell and taste have been top-of-mind. However, did you know loss of smell could also be an early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease? This reduced or lost sense is called “hyposmia” and is often associated with the condition.
- A hard time sleeping. Everyone has problems sleeping at one time or another. However, if a loved one is suddenly thrashing around in their sleep or acting out dreams, it could be an indicator of Parkinson’s.
- A low or soft voice. If your loved one has a sudden change in their tone of voice or it sounds hoarse, you should talk to a doctor about Parkinson’s disease. This problem occurs because the tremors, stiffness and slow movement that occur in the rest of the body can also impact the muscles used for speaking and swallowing.
- Problems with mobility. As people age, they often have issues walking or getting in or out of a bed or chair. However, if you notice your loved one isn’t swinging their arms when walking or they seem unusually stiff, particularly in the shoulders or hips, it can be a red flag. Those with Parkinson’s report feeling like movement doesn’t come naturally any longer and like their feet “feel stuck” to the floor.
- Stooping or hunching. Age, injury and disease can all impact an individual’s posture over time. However, if your loved one is suddenly not standing up straight or only feels comfortable stooping or slouching, it could be a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. This is because the condition impacts the brain’s control of automatic activities, including reminders to stand up straight.
- Dizziness or fainting. Feeling dizzy when standing up or getting out of bed can be a warning sign of low blood pressure that is linked to Parkinson’s. This happens because the condition limits the release of norepinephrine, a chemical that constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure.
- Facial masking. If your loved one’s facial expression is mad, sad or angry, without them realizing it, they’re displaying something called “facial masking.” This can make it hard for you to interpret their mood and intentions. It’s caused by stiffness in the facial muscles, making it more difficult to smile or express emotions.
Questions to Ask a Doctor About Parkinson’s Disease
None of the signs above on their own are a cause to worry. However, if you’re noticing several at once, it’s time to call their doctor and have them evaluated. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single test or one way to diagnose the condition. Instead, by assessing certain symptoms and conducting a range of diagnostic tests, your loved one’s doctor will be able to make an accurate diagnosis. This is important, especially in the early stages.
If your loved one is diagnosed, stay positive. They can still live a full life and many people do with minimal symptoms. You’ll just need to work with their healthcare provider to find the right mix of medications and complementary therapies that can ensure a good quality of life.
Some additional questions to ask your loved one’s care provider include:
- What are the options for treatments? What are the pros and cons of each? What do you recommend?
- What are the side effects of medications? Can anything minimize those side effects?
- Are there any clinical trials to participate in?
- What lifestyle modifications can be made to help, including diet, in-home care services, supplements and exercise?
- Is there anything my loved one should avoid in terms of over-the-counter drugs, supplements or food?
- Are there support groups for those with Parkinson’s disease and their families?
How to Care for Your Loved One with Parkinson’s Disease
There are many ways you can help your loved one with Parkinson’s disease. The first includes ensuring they have access to the right team of medical professionals. This can include a mix of nutritionists, internists, physical therapists, movement disorder specialists and even in-home caregivers. While there is no one standard treatment, your loved one’s care team will create a personalized protocol.
Some ways you can support the process include:
Offer Medication Reminders
Keeping track of medications is crucial, but it can be a challenging task. The best approach is a strict one with a schedule and pill organizers that ensure doses are not missed.
Help with Exercise
Exercise can help your loved one maintain mobility, improve balance and motor coordination, and boost their mood. At the same time, you’ll want to build up your own strength since caring for someone with Parkinson’s is physically demanding.
Make Personal Care Easier
Personal home care can become difficult over time as your loved one’s condition progresses. Implement some lifestyle modifications that make it easier to bathe and dress. These can include a shower chair and hand-held shower head, sponges with soap inside, a non-skid rug and towels with straps that are easier to hold onto.
Focus on Proper Nutrition
Both you and your loved one must follow a proper diet to maintain health and strength. There is no one diet that is recommended for those with Parkinson’s disease. However, generally a balanced diet with a mix of fruits, vegetables and lean meats will promote good health. If your loved one has problems with swallowing or constipation from their medications, then you might need to make some changes to their diet to accommodate for these issues.
Take Respite Breaks
Caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s disease is a heavy load. Make sure you’re taking plenty of respite breaks to get much-needed time to yourself. You can ask family caregivers and friends to step in when you’re away. You can also hire in-home caregivers to provide help and support to your loved one, as needed. These are professionals who will help your family member stay safe and comfortable, giving you peace of mind.
If you would like professional in-home care for your loved one, contact your local FirstLight Home Care today. We can create a personalized plan that ensures they get the support and encouragement they need.