By Dr. De Leon
10 signs that you might have Parkinson’s disease
Being a neurologist, the first quarter of the year is always the busiest and most exciting time for me. This is because I get a chance to raise brain awareness and get people thinking about protecting their brains against stroke as well as looking out for signs of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Parkinson’s is not only an old friend of mine but also my Achilles tendon; for you see, what are the odds that a Parkinson’s specialist would develop the very disease she loves? Well, this is just my story but not the end of the story by any means. Because in learning to live with my old friend in a more intimate setting I have learned to enjoy the unexpected rainbows.
This is the reason why I would like to bring attention to this illness- so that you who may also suffer with this disease can also find joy and purpose in life once more. In order to conquer something, one must be knowledgeable of what it is we are attempting to overcome. This includes knowing the symptoms as well as the treatments; although no cure is available as of yet.
As we near the month of April, which is considered National Parkinson’s Awareness Month, I want to you to look around your community whether it’s a senior living assisted facility, a nursing home, or the neighborhood where you have lived most of your life…I am certain you may recognize some of these symptoms in yourself or know someone who has this illness. Parkinson‘s disease is a chronic progressive neurodegenerative illness which affects 1.5 million individuals in the US. Characteristics of PD are impaired gait, decreased movement (fine motor), stiffness, & tremors.
As we age, our chance of developing PD increases so we must be savvy to recognize the early signs & symptoms suggestive of PD. Everyone may know about PD as a “shaking disease,” but kind of shakes are indicative of this disease? The tremors or ‘shakes’ occur at “rest.” For instance they may be present when lying down in bed, walking with arms at the sides, or simply when sitting still – making people want to either shove their hands in their pocket while standing still or sit on their hands to avoid unwelcome stares.
However, tremors are not always the first sign causing people to suffer unnecessarily for a longer period of time. In my practice, I commonly encountered patients who came in thinking they had had a stroke because they felt “weak” on one side of their body due to the increase stiffness that occurs with PD.
10 things to watch out for as early signs of PD:
- Increased slowness in the limbs and particularly difficulty with fine motor movements such as difficulty putting in your key into the lock, opening jars, buttoning clothes, trouble washing and changing on your own especially putting on pants or undergarments.
- Decreased arm swing on the side that feels “weak” or “stiff” as well as shoulder pain on the same side without evidence of arthritis or other abnormality. Sometimes shoulder pain can be the first symptom.
- Loss of balance and frequent falling- this is because PD patients tend to have a stooped posture which shifts center of gravity forward. Also people with chronic illness like PD can develop B12 deficiency causing loss of sensation in feet.
- Decrease blinking and ‘masked’ face – they appear as if staring, expression less making them appear angry or withdrawn/ they have no facial repertoire- the face looks the same when happy, sad or in pain.
- Change in handwriting- it stars of normal or small but gets progressively smaller as you write. This is called micrographia.
- Trouble sleeping- or acting out dreams which may lead to trauma if fall out of bed, or injury of bed partners who get in the way.
- Loss of smell- particularly foul odors, food just does not taste as good. This can be dangerous because can ingest spoiled food or have accident if there is a gas leak which is not detected.
- Increased constipation- without changes to diet or other gi problems- often feeling full.
- Mood changes- irritability/ trouble focusing/difficulty multi-tasking- also includes depression and anxiety.
- Bladder changes- increase urgency and frequency without another medical reason like infections or prostate enlargement. Occurs throughout day not just at night which is typical of aging bladder.
Treatments include surgeries (e.g. deep brain stimulation) and medications like Sinemet, Mirapex, Neupro, Azilect, along with ancillary therapies such as Physical, Occupational, and Speech therapy. Besides these treatments many patients are also improving their quality of life while enjoying themselves by participating in art therapy doing things like sculpting or painting. Participating in exercise therapy such as yoga, dancing, swimming, boxing, cycling can dramatically improve blood flow to your brain and decrease symptoms of PD requiring less medication at times while providing a source of happiness despite having a chronic illness.
My favorite things to do which help with my PD symptoms are ‘art therapy’ although I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination. I also enjoy singing with my daughter, which is another great type of therapy especially since another symptom is soft voice. The singing helps to project and maintain tone of voice so people don’t have to ask you to repeat yourself.
So please remember these signs if you, a loved one, or a friend has any of these symptoms don’t delay your visit to the doctor. With early treatment symptoms can improve allowing you the freedom to enjoy the things you love as well as your family. Your loved ones will thank you and might just surprise you by joining you in some of the therapies making healing that much sweeter!
For more information on Parkinson’s disease or how to get involved in raising awareness go to
By Dr. Maria De Leon exclusively for Assisted Living Directory
Photo by TesFox