Senior couple looking at one another as they sit on an outdoor bench.

How to Detect the Early Warning Signs of Parkinson’s

Each year, nearly 60,000 Americans and 7,000 Canadians are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. As you age, the likelihood that either you or someone close to you will develop Parkinson’s greatly increases. The Touchmark community of team members and residents are very familiar with the disease and its effects on individuals living with the disease and their families. So, in honor of April being Parkinson’s Awareness Month, we’re highlighting the early warning signs that may signal either you or someone you know has Parkinson’s, and how to best help once diagnosed.

Shakiness

A slight shake or tremor through a person’s hands or head could be an early indicator of a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Shaking can also be caused by overexertion, stress, and certain medicines, so an occasional tremor shouldn’t cause immediate concern.

Hyposmia or loss of smell

Whether your family member is recovering from a cold or flu or just battling seasonal allergies, a decreased sense of smell might not warrant an extra trip to the doctor. However, if your loved one’s health is in otherwise good condition and they begin to notice a decreased ability to smell foods like bananas, lemons, onions, and cinnamon, they may be experiencing symptoms of the first stage of Parkinson’s.

Difficulty sleeping

Does your spouse often keep you up, tossing and turning throughout the night? Many people with Parkinson’s experience increased movement while they sleep, and those movements are often sudden and severe. A few restless nights aren’t a cause for concern, but intense ‘acting out’ of dreams could be an early sign of the disease.

Constipation

A number of things, including dehydration, lack of fiber, or new medicine, can cause constipation. If these three causes can be safely ruled out, continued constipation may be a sign of something more serious.

Lightheadedness

Feeling an occasional rush of dizziness when standing up too quickly is common among people of all ages. The frequent feeling of vertigo or lightheadedness is often due to a sudden drop in blood pressure, also known as orthostatic hypotension. While blood pressure medication may be a cause, a doctor should be consulted, as it can be another sign of Parkinson’s disease.

Changes in speech

One of the major symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is slurred speech, but a similar indicator can help detect Parkinson’s in its early stages. People who begin to talk unusually softly or in a monotonous tone may be presenting one of the early warning signs of the disease.

Slow, stiff movements

Along with a slight tremor, moving slowly and stiffly is one of the key warning signs that someone has developed Parkinson’s. Early in the disease, this decreased range of motion likely will be limited to just one side of the body and cause some difficulty walking or initiating movements.

Cramped handwriting

The shift from regular handwriting to small, cramped letters is known as micrographia, a condition that is often linked to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s.

There is currently no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, but recognizing the warning signs as early as possible and taking action on interventions, such as exercise and therapy, can help slow the disease process. Showing signs of one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily determine a Parkinson’s diagnosis, but it’s always best to speak with your health care provider if you begin to notice a combination of these symptoms.

If you do have a loved one with a known Parkinson’s diagnosis, there are a few precautions you can take to make sure they remain as healthy and happy as possible. It’s important to help them manage their daily medications, assist in making financial decisions regarding medical treatment, and provide daily care as you contemplate in-home care or amove to a residential community. Touchmark’s Gold Standard hospitality, award-winning Full Life Wellness & Life Enrichment Program, certified fitness professionals, and highly trained staff are available 24/7 to ensure residents receive the services they need and a full, enriched life.

While more than one million Americans and Canadians will be living with Parkinson’s by next year, it’s important to note that people with Parkinson’s can still live a full and active life, especially if diagnosed early. By familiarizing yourself with the early warning signs, many of which are noticeable up to 10 years before motor functions are severely affected, you can ensure a higher quality of life. We recommend speaking to your doctor if any of these symptoms regularly occur. In addition, our team at Touchmark is always available to answer any questions about the services we provide for families living with this increasing disease.