More than 50,000 new cases of Parkinson’s Disease are diagnosed in the United States each year. The disease – a disorder of the nervous system – is chronic and worsens over time.
Often, the first sign of a problem is a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. And while this is the most well-known symptom, it is certainly not the only one. Patients also suffer from a lack of facial expression, slurred speech, stiffness, and slow movement.
Although Parkinson’s can’t be cured, some options can offer a marked improvement in symptoms. Keep reading to learn more about this daunting disease, plus medical treatments and home modifications that can help ease discomfort.
Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
People affected by Parkinson’s Disease experience lower levels of dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain. This leads to abnormal brain activity and ultimately causes most signs and symptoms associated with the illness.
Warning signs of Parkinson’s vary from person to person, and early symptoms are often so mild they go unnoticed. Typically, problems start on one side of your body and usually remain worse on that side, even after the whole body is affected.
Here’s what to look for:
- Tremors or shaking, usually in your hand or fingers
- Stiff muscles that occur throughout the body
- Slowed movement, including shorter steps or dragging your feet
- Decreased ability to smell
- Small, cramped handwriting
- Voice changes, such as a slur or speaking in a monotone
- Stooped posture and difficulty balancing
- Body freezes up while walking
Causes of Parkinson’s Disease
It is not known what causes Parkinson’s. Scientists believe that it may have both genetic and environmental components or that viruses may trigger it.
Known risk factors include:
- Age: Parkinson’s usually begins in middle or late life, and the risk increases with age
- Sex: Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s than women
- Heredity: Having a close relative with Parkinson’s increases the chances that you’ll develop the disease, although the risk is still small
- Exposure to toxins: Ongoing exposure to certain pesticides or herbicides may increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s
Complications of Parkinson’s Disease
Problems arising from Parkinson’s can significantly reduce quality of life. For example, individuals with Parkinson’s may experience dangerous falls, leading to contusions, blood clots, and broken bones.
Other problems may include:
- Sleep problems and sleep disorders
- Cognitive issues and thinking difficulties
- Swallowing problems
- Lack of bladder control
- Depression, anxiety, and other emotional changes
Proper treatment and safety measures taken at home can help overcome obstacles and increase life expectancy.
Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease
Treatment for Parkinson’s typically includes a combination of medications, therapies, and lifestyle changes.
Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy are often recommended, and most individuals find medication helpful.
A number of drugs can be used to treat Parkinson’s, including:
- Levodopa: A medication that helps replenish dopamine
- Dopamine agonists: Drugs that can imitate the action of dopamine in the brain
- Anticholinergics: Used to help with rigidity
- COMT inhibitors: Can help prolong the effect of levodopa
- MAO B inhibitors: Inhibit the enzyme monoamine oxidase B, which breaks down dopamine in the brain
Over time, the effectiveness of Parkinson’s medications usually decreases. By the later stages of the disease, side effects may outweigh the benefits.
Helpful home modifications
People with Parkinson’s often worry that they won’t be able to stay in their own homes, for a variety of reasons. For instance, Parkinson’s can cause rigidity, problems initiating movements, and difficulty walking. These deficits can impair the ability to go from sitting to standing and to move freely between rooms, among other things.
Although it can be complex, home modifications and special equipment can help you stay in place as the disease progresses.
Some of the most common modifications for Parkinson’s patients include:
- Installing grab bars near the toilet and in the tub/shower to help avoid slips and falls
- Installing a tub transfer bench to ease the transition into the bath or shower
- Put in a raised toilet seat to help with standing from the commode
- Creating a no threshold/barrier-free shower to allow for the use of a rolling shower chair
- Using an adjustable bed or hospital bed to assist with transferring in and out of bed
- Adding a handrail to help move into a standing position
- Installing motion-activated lights to help avoid nighttime slips, falls, or other accidents
Help with mobility
- Removing threshold strips between rooms to mitigate tripping hazards
- Using a lift recliner to help move from a sitting to a standing position
- Widening doorways to allow for a wheelchair, if necessary
- Installing ramps or stairlifts to assist with the challenge of climbing stairs
Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive illness that continuously worsens. Proper medical treatment, along with modifications to your house, can help keep you safe and enable you to remain in your home longer.
Reach out today to speak with our team about any home safety concerns you may have or issues in navigating your daily life: (973) 219 – 4147.