|Illustration of the Parkinson disease by Sir William Richard Gowers from A Manual of Diseases of the Nervous System in 1886 showing the characteristic posture of PD patients (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
When my husband was first diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, in 2006, the only really subtle sign that I had noticed, was when he walked he no longer swung both of his arms. Being a registered nurse I was trained to notice things in people. Richard wasn't bothered by anything at this point. But we went to see a neurologist and the diagnosis was made.
Parkinson's disease is a complex disease of the brain that affects movement and thinking. People with Parkinson's may have tremors, rigidity, stiffness, a mask-like expressions and dementia. Richard's father had Parkinson's. Some forms of Parkinson's are hereditary and you are more at risk if it is your father who has the disease. But many times Parkinson's is NOT hereditary.
There are no lab tests, no xrays, no screenings that will tell you a patient has Parkinson's disease. The neurologist will look at your medical history and give you a through neurological exam.
The symptoms of Parkinson's, in the beginning can be very subtle and a lot of people will not even notice them. These symptoms usually start between ages 50 and 60. Of course there are exceptions to every disease. The tremor is often the most' associated with the disease' symptom. My husband never really had a pronounced tremor. His was in one hand and in his mouth. He 'quivered' is what I always said. There is also rigidity, or stiffness. This can appear in the arms, legs, face, no neck. There is also a pronounced slowing of movement. Richard spent quite a few years having trouble getting out of his chair and not being able to turn himself in bed. One of the symptoms that has been hardest for us has been the weakness of face and throat muscles. This makes it hard for him to chew and swallow. And his voice has become very soft and hard to hear. He coughs a lot when eating or drinking. Which can lead to inhaling things into his lungs, which can cause pneumonia to develop. We have only had one episode of pneumonia and that was during the time he was in the hospital following his stroke. Difficulty with walking is a big symptom of Parkinson's. They take very small shuffle-type steps; usually they are bent forward at the waist, and cannot turn around. In the end their movements are 'frozen' and they cannot any longer walk. That is where we are now with Richard.
Some of the less common symptoms of the disease are ones that I found by researching in the library and on-line.
- changes in handwriting
- oily skin
- increased dandruff
- changes in urination
- anxiety, depression
Next installment will be the Stages of Parkinson's and how we have gone through them.