In our detailed guide to 20 common medical conditions which affect older people, you can find a brief overview of Parkinson’s disease. Today, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at this condition. Specifically, we’ll be discussing the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition which causes damage to the nervous system. In short, Parkinson’s reduces the level of dopamine in the brain. Without enough dopamine, the brain struggles to send messages to the muscles. This leads to issues with co-ordinating the body’s movement.
The Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
There are three main symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. Besides these, there are two categories of other symptoms to keep in mind. Motor symptoms (to do with movement) and non-motor symptoms (psychological symptoms and other physical symptoms unrelated to movement). If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, you should make an appointment with your GP. To find out more about the condition in general, you can read our detailed guide to Parkinson’s disease.
It’s important to note that not everybody will experience the same symptoms. In most cases of Parkinson’s disease, symptoms will appear very gradually and may be very mild for a long time.
Main Physical Symptoms
One of the first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is a tremor. If you start to notice a tremor, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have Parkinson’s. There are other types of tremor that could point to other conditions, such as:
An essential tremor is a common type of tremor that does not necessarily point to Parkinson’s disease. An essential tremor is a trembling in your limbs, head, or voice, usually noticeable when you are moving.
A dystonic tremor is a symptom of dystonia, a rare neurological disorder that is separate from Parkinson’s.
According to Parkinson’s UK, a Parkinson’s tremor can appear in two different ways.
- Resting tremor – this tremor usually happens when you are still, for example lying in bed.
- Action tremor – this type of tremor tends to happen when you are doing something, like eating with a knife and fork.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between a Parkinson’s tremor and other types of tremor. If you are worried that you are having Parkinson’s symptoms, you should make an appointment with your GP. From there, the GP may refer you for a specialist assessment. The specialist can carry out a variety of tests in order to reach a diagnosis.
However, according to the NHS:
No tests can conclusively show that you have Parkinson’s disease. Your doctor will base a diagnosis on your symptoms, medical history and a detailed physical examination.
This symptom of Parkinson’s is also known as bradykinesia. It can be hard to spot.
If you experience this symptom, you might find that you walk with slower, shorter steps. You might take longer to do things in general and notice that your co-ordination is worse than usual.
Physiotherapy can alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s, particularly slowness of movement. There are also certain medications available which can be very helpful.
Muscle stiffness – or rigidity – is the third of the main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
People with Parkinson’s can experience muscle stiffness in both the face and the body. If you experience rigidity it can be especially difficult to write by hand. In general, it might make it harder than usual to move certain parts of your body or make certain facial expressions.
Muscle stiffness can also cause painful cramps. However, regular exercise and physiotherapy can combat these cramps. If you’re experiencing facial muscle stiffness, a speech therapist can show you helpful exercises to keep your facial muscles flexible
In some cases, Parkinson’s Disease affects the part of the brain that controls balance. For lots of people with Parkinson’s, balance becomes more challenging and less automatic.
Unfortunately, this means that people with Parkinson’s can be prone to falls. Physical therapy can improve balance and make you less likely to fall. However, if you’re worried about falls, you should consider getting a Fall Detector alarm. A Fall Detector is programmed to the wearer’s height. When it detects a sudden drop, it automatically sends an alert to our 24/7 Emergency Response Team. This means you will always be able to get the help you need, even if you are unable to call for help yourself. To find out more, you can read our Fall Detector guide.
Reduced Sense of Smell
A weakening sense of smell can be an early warning sign of Parkinson’s. However, it can be hard to notice, since it tends to happen very gradually. After a Parkinson’s diagnosis, lots of people realise they had been losing their sense of smell for a long time.
Dizziness tends to set in as a result of some Parkinson’s medications, rather than being a symptom of the disease itself. This is because the medications in question affect blood pressure, which can trigger dizzy spells. Some Parkinson’s sufferers experience postural hypotension – which you might know as ‘head-rush’. This is a feeling of dizziness triggered by changing position, for example when standing up from a seat.
Other Physical Symptoms
While we have covered the main physical symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, this is by no means an exhaustive list. For more information, see Parkinson’s UK’s guide to the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
The most widely-known symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease affect movement. However, there are a range of other psychological symptoms that can also appear.
Fatigue is not the same as just feeling tired after exercise or a bad night’s sleep. Instead, fatigue is a feeling of tiredness without obvious cause or effort. In general, resting does not relieve fatigue. According to Parkinson’s UK, up to half of people with Parkinson’s experience fatigue, so it is relatively common.
Mild Cognitive Impairment
Some people with Parkinson’s will experience something called ‘mild cognitive impairment’. This is a common symptom which can cause feelings of distraction, disorganisation, confusion, or difficulty concentrating. Mild cognitive impairment can also cause memory problems, like struggling to remember information or find the right words in conversation. Treatment for mild cognitive impairment can involve medication alongside occupational therapy.
Certain types of dementia are more likely to affect those with Parkinson’s disease. These are Parkinson’s dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. They share very similar symptoms and are sometimes grouped together under the umbrella term ‘Lewy body dementia’. Someone with Parkinson’s might receive a dementia diagnosis if mild cognitive impairment symptoms begin to impact their daily life. Treatment consists of medication and cognitive therapy.
It is unfortunately common for those with Parkinson’s to experience depression. Research suggests that a lack of dopamine, the chemical that causes symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, can also trigger depression. However, the symptoms of Parkinson’s can make it difficult to spend time socialising, which can in turn lead to loneliness and increase the risk of depression. Sufferers can combat the symptoms of depression through cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, and medications.
If You’re Noticing Symptoms of Parkinson’s
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, you should contact your GP. However, experiencing any these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that you have Parkinson’s disease. Many other conditions share similar symptoms.
According to the NHS, around 1 in 500 people is affected by Parkinson’s disease. This is roughly equivalent to 0.2%. Men are slightly more likely to develop the condition than women. Regardless of gender, most people with Parkinson’s do not experience symptoms before their 50s.
You can read more about the condition in our guide to Parkinson’s Disease.
How Lifeline24 Can Help People With Parkinson’s Disease
A Lifeline alarm can help to protect people who have been diagnosed with a long-term medical condition like Parkinson’s disease. If one of our alarm users has a fall or feels unwell, they simply need to press the button on their alarm pendant. Our 24/7 Emergency Response Team will arrange help immediately.
To find out more about our life-saving service, read our quick guide to pendant alarms or give us a call on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, fill in our Contact Us form online and we will get in touch as soon as we can. Our friendly Customer Service advisors are always on hand to answer any of your questions.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 21st October 2021 to reflect current information.