Do You Know the Signs of Parkinson’s

Home caregiver helping a senior woman standing in the bedroom

In 1998, one of the most famous actors of the time, Michael J. Fox, became the face of Parkinson’s disease. Diagnosed at the early age of 29, Michael describes waking up and noticing his pinky as “auto-animated.” That was his first symptom of the disease that would change his life.

Parkinson’s disease is when brains cells responsible for making the chemical (dopamine) that regulates movement stop working or die off. Without sufficient dopamine, the body experiences uncontrollable movements, like stiffness and shaking, and an erosion of coordination and balance. Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, meaning symptoms last a lifetime and get worse over time; those diagnosed can have a hard time walking and talking, as well as mental and behavioral changes.

There are many different early clues that may suggest Parkinson’s. Here are the top three Parkinson’s symptoms.

Tremors. A tremor is the most common symptom but not everyone with Parkinson’s has it. A tremor occurs when a part of the body (like a finger, hand, or limb) involuntary shakes even though it’s relaxed. The tremor disappears with voluntary movement or activity.

Slowness. Slowness may look like less movement while walking, decreased facial expressions, or a gait that is more gradual. Basically, there is less spontaneous and voluntary movement. Slowness is always present with Parkinson’s.

Stiffness. Muscle stiffness happens when the muscle stays contracted, tight and short, for a long time. Moving may be more difficult; arms may not swing as much when walking. People describe the sensation like their feet are stuck to the floor. A doctor can detect stiffness with an examination.

Other “invisible” symptoms to consider are those which demonstrate problems with the automatic functions of the body. Constipation, trouble urinating, low blood pressure, or high perspiration can be early indicators of Parkinson’s. Likewise, physical changes including drooling, excessive fatigue, pain, lowered or softened voice, and smell loss can signify the disease.

Of course, if you notice these symptoms, it’s best to discuss them with your doctor —especially if they are interfering with your day-to-day life. For example, if you don’t enjoy dancing because you are stiff or you can’t finish a workday because you are tired.

There are treatments for Parkinson’s and it doesn’t have to mean the end. As Michael J. Fox sums up, “The disease is this thing that attached to my life—it isn’t the driver.”

Source: IlluminAge with information from Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, AARP, CDC, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, and the Parkinson’s Foundation.

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