In 1817, surgeon James Parkinson was the first person to describe “paralysis agitans” when he published An Essay on the Shaking Palsy. His in-depth description — based on years as a medical practitioner and skilled clinical observer — would become his outstanding contribution to medical science. Yet there is still much more to be understood about Parkinson’s Disease, a chronic and progressive neurological condition for which there is no cure.
Today’s researchers like Dr. Ray Dorsey and Dr. Bastiaan Bloem point to Parkinson’s disease being the fastest-growing neurological condition on the planet. Dorsey, a neurologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center and co-author (with Bloem) of the book Ending Parkinson’s Disease, points to the number of Parkinson’s cases having increased 35% the last 10 years. He believes cases will double over the next 25 years. Bloem, a professor at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center, told Parkinson’s News Today he believes that over the next 20 years, the number of people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) will likely double — from the present 6.5 million to more than 13 million worldwide.
April being Parkinson’s Awareness Month provides the opportunity for seniors, family members and caregivers to educate themselves about disease symptoms and available resources.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a progressive movement disorder of the central nervous system. It typically begins gradually with a variety of motor and non-motor symptoms and increases in severity over time. A person may have been experiencing symptoms for years unknown to family members who may have believed their loved one was perfectly fine.
PD is the most common among a group of movement disorders known as Parkinsonian syndromes. These disorders have similar symptoms, and all are a result in a loss of dopamine-producing neurons. Typically, Parkinson’s disease symptoms begin to appear when 80% of these neurons become damaged. After Alzheimer’s disease, PD is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder. Like Alzheimer’s, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, but symptoms can be managed with medication or in certain rare cases, surgery may be recommended to regulate symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of Parkinson’s
- Body and hand tremors
- Speech changes or writing changes (very small writing)
- Impaired posture and balance
- Loss of automatic movement or sluggish movement (aka Bradykinesia)
- Rigid muscles
- Distinctive changes in mood and behavior
- Frozen facial expressions
Who is at Risk for PD?
IAccording to the Parkinson’s Foundation, more than 1.5 million Americans are living with Parkinson’s Disease and an estimated 60,000 new patients are diagnosed each year. “Young onset” PD patients are people younger than 50 who have been diagnosed. It is more common to see the condition affect those age 65 and older. It is estimated that approximately 1% of seniors have some form of the disease, but it is difficult to diagnose properly in the elderly. Risk factors include:
- Gender – For unknown reasons, men are 1.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s than women.
- Age – Most people develop PD in middle or late life, and the risk increases with age.
- Family history – People more likely to develop Parkinson’s are ones who have a family history of the disease.
- Exposure to toxins – Research shows people who have been exposed to herbicides or pesticides over time are more likely to develop PD.
- Head trauma – It’s believed that repeated blows to the head (think about professional boxers like Muhammad Ali) increases a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s; however, neurologists are not certain.
Parkinson disease symptoms eventually get worse and can include gastrointestinal problems, trouble chewing and swallowing food, hallucinations, memory loss or dementia, clinical depression, and weight loss.
Managing Care for Someone with Parkinson’s Disease
Since Parkinson’s is both chronic and progressive, managing care for someone with Parkinson’s brings many challenges with each stage of the disease. Because there is no “across the board” standard for how Parkinson’s will affect any individual, a senior loved one may resist accepting assistance. Early Parkinson’s often requires more emotional support and less hands-on care.
All this makes caregiving more complicated, as ADLs (activities of daily living) become more difficult for the senior patient to accomplish. Perhaps most stressful for the patient and his or her family are the unknowns of day-to-day caregiving needs, given the unpredictability of Parkinson’s. Family members may face significantly increased challenges and responsibilities as their senior loved one enters the later stages of the disease.
Because of their specialized training, Amada Senior Care caregivers:
- Help adapt the home environment by eliminating dangers associated with Parkinson’s – keeping pathways open, clearing obstacles, removing unsteady rugs or decorations, etc. – to keep the senior patient safe.
- Offer patience and empathy while helping patients complete ADLs and respond with warmth and reassurance to reduce their anxiety and confusion when communication difficulties and forgetfulness arise.
- Encourage communication, activities and social involvement as much as possible while the senior patient is still able to participate and be involved.
- Serves as a member of the patient’s health care team by helping monitor symptoms, give medication reminders, assist with physical therapy exercises.
If you or a loved one needs help to manage PD symptoms, know that you are not alone. To learn more about how Amada Senior Care can help facilitate the care of a loved one diagnosed with Parkinson’s, please call 866-752-1961 or email info@AmadaSeniorCare.com. Many families are unaware that in-home Parkinson’s care is not covered by health insurance or Medicare but rather a Long-Term Care insurance policy and our experienced Amada Senior Care advisors can provide guidance.
Resources for Parkinson’s Patients and Their Families
National Parkinson’s Foundation — Works to improve care for Parkinson’s sufferers and advancing research toward a cure.
American Parkinson’s Disease Association — The APDA represents the largest grassroots network with the goal of fighting Parkinson’s disease.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research — Established by the actor, Michael J. Fox, the foundation pursues an aggressively funded research agenda with the goals of finding a cure for PD and developing improved therapies for patients.
Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s — Launched by the professional road bicycle racer, the foundation funds early-phase research focusing on exercise, speech, movement, and other quality-of-life factors.
“Learning More About Parkinson’s Disease in Seniors,” was written by Michelle Flores, Amada blog contributor.