What image comes to mind when someone mentions Parkinson’s Disease? Most often, we will think of uncontrollable shaking, however, 30% of those living with Parkinson’s Disease never experience a tremor.
The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease can vary for everyone and early signs are easily missed. Here are the 10 most common signs of Parkinson’s. It’s important not to worry if your mum or dad has only one of these symptoms. If they exhibit more than one, though, an appointment with a doctor should be considered.
A slight shaking or tremor in your mum or dad’s finger, thumb, hand, or chin while at rest is an early sign of Parkinson’s Disease, but not everyone with Parkinson’s experiences this symptom. For Parkinson’s New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Andrew Bell, the first sign that he had Parkinson’s was when he realised he could no longer ‘drive’ his mouse accurately. Double clicking on the right was suddenly a challenge and he often found himself using two hands. Andrew’s father also lived with Parkinson’s – his mum first became concerned when she noticed her husband’s hand moving on the steering wheel.
Remember shaking is normal after lots of exercise, if stress is involved, or if your mum or dad has sustained an injury. Some medication can also cause shaking.
2. Small handwriting
Your mum or dad’s handwriting seems much smaller all of a sudden and you’ve noticed that some of the words are crowded together. A change in handwriting, or micrographia, may be a sign of Parkinson’s Disease.
It’s important to talk with your mum or dad about the change you’ve noticed in his or her handwriting as sometimes writing can change because of stiff hands or fingers or poor eyesight.
3. Loss of smell
Often mentioned as a symptom of COVID-19, losing the ability to smell certain foods, particularly foods like bananas, dill pickles, or licorice, is something that can signal the onset of Parkinson’s.
Be aware that a cold, flu, COVID, or just a stuffy nose can also affect your sense of smell. This should return when you are better.
RELATED: Smell loss
4. Sleep issues
Sleep problems are increasingly recognised as a potential early indicator of Parkinson’s Disease. If your mum or dad has difficulty in changing positions while asleep, thrashes around in bed, and moves suddenly during sleep, this may be a sign of Parkinson’s.
However, it is normal for everyone to have a night when they toss and turn rather than sleep. Quick jerks of the body are also common and often normal during lighter sleep.
RELATED: Parkinson’s Disease and Sleep
5. Mobility issues
Stiffness in the body, arms or legs or a noticeable difference in the way someone’s arms swing when walking can be a sign of the start of Parkinson’s Disease, particularly if the stiffness does not go away as the person continues to move. Another early sign is stiffness or pain in the shoulder or hips. Your mum or dad might say their feet seem to be “stuck to the floor”.
Arm or shoulder injuries can cause the same symptoms and other illnesses like arthritis might cause the same symptoms so it’s important to make an appointment with a doctor and have your mum or dad thoroughly assessed.
It’s a topic we prefer to avoid, but if trouble with bowel movements becomes a daily topic of conversation with your mum or dad, it should be investigated by a doctor as it could be an early sign of Parkinson’s Disease.
However, taking a look at how much water or fibre mum or dad are consuming is also recommended as insufficient amounts can also cause constipation. Some medications also cause constipation.
7. A soft or low voice
A lowering in the volume of your mum or dad’s voice or a hoarse tone can mean mum or dad is experiencing the start of Parkinson’s Disease. People in this situation often accuse others of losing their hearing, when the reality is they are speaking more softly.
If mum or dad has a chest cold or other virus, this could also be affecting the volume and sound of his or her voice. If the voice does not return to normal once he or she is recovered, then a visit to a doctor is recommended.
8. Masked face
An early sign of Parkinson’s can be “facial masking”. This refers to a prevalent serious, depressed or mad look on someone’s face, even when he or she is not in a bad mood.
Again, some medications can cause a similar effect, but this should return to normal once the medication is stopped.
9. Dizziness or fainting
Feeling dizzy or fainting can be a sign of low blood pressure and can be linked to Parkinson’s. If mum or dad regularly complains about feeling lightheaded or dizzy when they stand up, this should prompt a consultation with a doctor.
10. Stooping or hunching over
Have you noticed that mum or dad is not standing up as straight as in the past? About 5-10% of people with Parkinson’s have a pronounced problem with their posture. If you’ve noticed a persistent stoop, lean, or slouch in mum or dad, this could be a sign of Parkinson’s.
The impact of a Parkinson’s diagnosis on the family
Parkinson’s New Zealand CEO Andrew Bell says it’s true that a Parkinson’s diagnosis means the whole family gets Parkinson’s.
“Partners are suddenly confronted with a very altered future. Children are confronted by the fact that they may need to help with the care of a parent much sooner than they anticipated. The power balance in the family can change.”
Andrew says denial and disbelief is often the first reaction for the whole family, but it’s important to ultimately accept the journey. Medication can help but can take some time to get right and good exercise, diet, and sleep regimens are needed.
For the family, Andrew believes the most meaningful action they can take is to make sure their relationships remain intact and unchanged. It’s important to let the person living with Parkinson’s know that the relationship you have with them is of immeasurable value.
“Knowing they are not alone and have loving and supportive companions on the journey, no matter what, is the greatest gift that family can give,” he says.
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Home Instead is a specialist, national provider of high quality, relationship-based, in-home care for older New Zealanders. We support our clients to continue living independently in their own homes by empowering their ability rather than focussing on disabilities resulting from chronic and degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s.
Our services include assistance with personal care, light household duties, meal preparation, medication reminders, and transport to appointments, shopping and social outings. We take personal responsibility for providing the best in-home care and support to meet our client’s needs and are committed to addressing the individual and national challenges of New Zealand’s ageing population.