Aging is a natural, beautiful process we should all be proud of. Every wrinkle, every word and each gesture marks all the things we’ve been through – things that made us who we are now.
Even when we get clumsy or we feel like we’re moving slower, it’s all part of this magical journey called life.
Or is it?
According to Parkinson’s Foundation, more than 60,000 Americans in our country are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) every year. A total of 10 million people around the world are living with this illness and many are still undiagnosed. Why?
Because Parkinson’s disease occurs in people older than 50, many of its symptoms are resembling the normal signs of aging.
However, there are a few early signs everyone should know in order to detect the illness on time and get proper treatment. Today, we’ll reveal 13 crucial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and how they can manifest.
This is one of the key signs of Parkinson’s disease although, as we’ve mentioned earlier, it can also be a normal sign of aging. How can you tell the two apart?
Tremors caused by early Parkinson’s include sudden twitching or shaking of the chin, hands or legs. Another particularity is that these tremors stop if the person starts moving the affected part of the body.
Since Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder, the tremors are initially so subtle only the affected person may notice them. However, they can become more frequent and intense in time.
Interestingly enough, tremors start manifesting only on one side of the body and extend gradually to the other side as well.
Loss of smell
This symptom now seems more frightening than ever since it’s also a common sign of COVID-19.
Medically called hyposmia or olfactory dysfunction, the inability to smell can actually affect between 70-90% of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. This is also one of the most common ways you can tell you have the illness especially if you’re already dealing with tremors.
However, loss of smell can happen gradually and it can manifest itself in different ways such as:
- Difficulty recognizing odors
- Inability to tell the difference between different odors
- Reduced overall sense of smell
Right now, specialists can use a variety of tests to diagnose hyposmia, but none of them is 100% accurate.
Note that many habits or events can alter your sense of smell, including smoking, age, prolongued chemical exposure. Furthermore, hyposmia can also be a sign of Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, but either way it’s definitely worth mentioning to your doctor.
Parkinson’s disease can affect many of your neuronal capacities, especially basal ganglia. These tiny nerve cells are located deep inside your brain and they’re essential for flexibility and balance.
Unfortunately, Parkinson’s disease can gradually affect these nerve cells to the point you start losing balance.
Specialists can diagnose this symptom through an exercise known as the ‚pull test.’ During the test, a specialist will move your shoulders backwards until you lose your balance; the time it takes for you to regain balance can let doctors know whether basal ganglia is affected or not.
In normal individuals, it only takes one or two steps backwards to regain balance, while those with Parkinson’s have a harder time standing still again.
If a person starts walking strangely, you think you’d notice immediately, right?
When it comes to early Parkinson’s disease, even this symptom might be difficult to detect. We already know that this illness can affect your balance, but it can also have a negative impact on member coordination.
As a result, people with early Parkinson’s may start dragging their feet just a little as they walk, or they may walk slower than usually.
As the disease progresses, the walking habits also become stranger: the affected person may experience an irregular pace, such as suddenly walking faster without actually wanting to.
If this were the only symptom of Parkinson’s, I think the majority of us would suspect we have it, right?
Sleep problems can be caused by countless problems from physical and mental disorders to stress and unhealthy lifestyle choices. However, it can also be one of the earliest signs of Parkinson’s disease when it manifests as:
- Sudden fatigue
- Night terrors
- Uncontrollable movements during sleep
- Sleep apnea
If you notice any of the above, the first thing you should do is check your daily schedule and physical condition to eliminate any alternative reasons.
Did you know that we need at least 12 different facial muscles just for a shy smile? Our face is a wonder mechanism when it comes to the expressions we make to describe how we feel.
Unfortunately, though, Parkinson’s disease can also affect nerve cells in this area, which causes a symptom medically called facial masking.
In simple terms, a person with early Parkinson’s may no longer be able to make the face expressions they desire. As the disease progresses, they gradually lose their ability of making any face expressions, which can make them seem emotionless, as if they’re wearing a mask.
A particularity of this symptom is that it might also cause a person to blink slower than usual.
Since Parkinson’s disease can cause sudden twitches and tremors, you’d think the affected people seem very agitated all the time. However, there’s another side of the coin, medically called bradykinesia.
This term refers to a slower movement of a certain part of the body. Some of the most common examples are hand and leg stiffness or having a hard time starting to move (think getting up from the chair or starting to walk).
Sadly, many people dealing with this symptom never mention it to their doctor because they think it’s just due to aging. Unlike aging, though, Parkinson’s bradykinesia doesn’t reduce your bone density or muscle strength, since it only affects the nerve cells.
Changes in handwriting
Handwriting is a practice that requires fine motor skills – and Parkinson’s disease can have a negative impact in this case as well.
The medical term for this symptom is micrographia, a disorder that makes the affected person’s handwriting unusually small or cramped.
Micrographia can be a sign of many illnesses which affect the nervous system, especially neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s. If you notice any strange changes in your handwriting it’s definitely worth mentioning it to your doctor.
You should also be aware of other signs of dementia to make sure you detect them ahead of time.
Unfortunately, walking isn’t the only physical activity that becomes affected by Parkinson’s disease. People in the early stages of the illness might have their posture affected as well.
Parkinson’s can cause muscle rigidity, which might make them bending forward as if they’re hunched or stooped over. This is an involuntary gesture that’s caused by lack of balance and reduced neuronal capacities.
Of course, bad posture can also be a normal sign of aging; the difference is that in this case it can be corrected or adapted through practice and physical activity.
Who would’ve thought that Parkinson’s disease can cause this common digestive symptom?
Statistically, 25% of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease are experiencing constipation even before any motor signs such as difficulty walking, posture problems or facial masking.
However, constipation can be caused by a wide range of reasons; if it happens after a Thanksgiving feast, for instance, there’s definitely no need to worry.
However, constant constipation can be the result of an unhealthy lifestyle or a disease which affects the digestive system.
Aside from affecting nerve cells and neurotransmitters inside the body, Parkinson’s disease can also change the normal production of hormones such as dopamine.
Dopamine is an essential hormone for controlling your mood and behavior daily. When it becomes affected, you may start experiencing:
- Unexplained anxiety
- Inability to solve simple problems
As the disease progresses and hormonal production becomes more and more affected, you may also experience psychosis.
Note that all of the symptoms listed above can signal other types of dementia as well, including Alzheimer’s disease. Discussing every change with your doctor is key to detecting any potential illness on time.
Unexplained weight loss
Weight loss may sound nice to most of us, but it can seriously affect your health when it’s caused by an illness.
Although it’s not a symptom of its own, weight loss comes as a consequence of many signs brought by Parkinson’s disease.
One of them, for instance, is tremor; even though tremors happen involuntarily, they still require plenty of energy, which can lead to unexplained weight loss. Constipation, loss of smell and psychological changes such as depression can also severely reduce the appetite, so you will no longer meet your daily nutritional needs.
As the disease progresses, tremors might make the eating process even more difficult and energy-draining, which also reduces the normal meal intake.
People with an advanced stage of Parkinson’s may have a difficult time speaking due to tremors or facial masking.
However, this symptom can also show up in the early stages of the illness in the form of a softer tone or having an unusual fluctuation in volume (speaking very loud, then very softly unintentionally).
The opposite effect is also possible: some people with early Parkinson’s can lose the ability to change their vocal tone and volume, thus speaking monotonously without any intonation.
Luckily, this is one of the few symptoms that’s immediately noticeable both by the affected person and those around them.
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder that mostly affects the elderly population. We should all be aware of its symptoms and call the doctor as soon as we notice them in ourselves or a loved one.
Unfortunately, many people who start experiencing these signs might feel too embarrassed to discuss them with their family or visit a specialist, so we should always pay attention to unusual changes.
Many times, shaky hands or stiffness can simply be a normal sign of aging. However, as I always like to say, prevention is always better than treatment!
With that in mind, I’m going to leave you a few of our top retiree resources so you can live a healthy, happy life: 10 Subtle Signs of Dementia Every Retiree Should Know
Before you go… have you or a loved one been diagnosed with Parkinson’s? Share your experience in the comment section and let’s help each other manage this condition better!