Understanding Parkinson’s Disease
Did You Know: Parkinson’s affects nearly 1 million people in the United States and more than 6 million people worldwide.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects certain brain cells that make dopamine leading them to stop working or to die creating the symptoms of PD.
The experience of living with Parkinson's is unique to each individual as symptoms vary from person to person. Neither them nor a doctor can predict which symptoms will arise or the severity of those symptoms. It is a lifelong and progressive disease, with symptoms steadily worsening over time, therefore fall prevention for many is the first call to action for preparing their loved one for the journey ahead.
The cause of Parkinson's is unknown. Researchers believe that Parkinson's is caused by a combination of factors with genetic causes at one end and environmental causes at the other. Some cases suggest that PD is influenced by environmental factors such as pesticides and air pollutants however substantial evidence is yet to conclude this cause.
Regular research is underway to understand the triggers and the flood of cellular changes that lead to Parkinson's. Knowing more about the cause could help researchers develop treatments to stop or even prevent the disease.
The most common are those that affect the person’s motor movements. Familiar symptoms are stiffness (rigidity) of the muscles, a resting tremor which is a rhythmic involuntary shaking of limbs, hands and feet, and then the third is slowness (bradykinesia) which reduces walking speed, lessens swinging of the arms and decreases facial expressions. Other motor symptoms can be general walking problems or difficulty with balance and coordination.
Non-motor (non-movement) symptoms sometimes are called the "invisible" symptoms that can affect almost everybody and may differ in severity from person to person. Symptoms include constipation, low blood pressure, sexual problems, urinary problems such as frequent urination, excessive sweating, cognitive issues such as memory loss or poor multitasking skills and the lack of motivation or low interest in activities.
PD sufferers may also notice mood disturbances. Depression, sadness, loss of energy, decreased interest in activities and anxiety are symptoms that one might notice. Hallucinations and paranoia can also fit into this category with the addition of mild delusions surrounding a partner or family member.
Other symptoms that have been linked to PD are drooling, pain, skin changes and excessive daytime sleepiness, smell loss, speech problems, vision changes, sleep problems and weight changes.
Falls are common in people with Parkinson's disease, affecting up to 60% of those who live at home alone. Balance, posture and gait issues make getting around the home more difficult, and in addition to these symptoms, vision changes and dizziness can raise a person’s risk of a fall significantly.
Common Fall Prevention Strategies
-Remove coffee tables or bulky items that could obstruct walkways.
-Add brighter lights or add lamps to shaded areas to help with their sight.
-Place cups, plates etc at arms length for easy reachable items.
-Add 'glow in the dark' light switches to help them find the switch at night.
-Add handlebars in bathrooms, bedrooms to assist getting up and down.
-Remove rugs to avoid tripping on them.
-Prepare secure footwear for walking around the house.
-Provide them with a walker for extra mobility support.
-Provide head protection to reduce the risk of a brain injury.
A medical professional can help to determine a person’s fall risk and may suggest rearranging the home or purchasing assistance products such as a protective helmet to increase Independence and safety within the home.
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Further Support - The Michael J Fox Foundation
Iconic actor, author and Hollywood star Michael J Fox has been battling with PD at the young age of 29. His foundation has been providing the latest research into the disease since the year 2000 in the hope of eliminating Parkison’s disease for good. Over 900 million dollars has gone into funding research programs to date along with providing further support for sufferers via his website. As a great role model for many Michael spends his time sharing his stories with the public and providing support where possible.
If you would like to read about Michael, his story and the foundation for research on PD, check out his website here.