We have known about Parkinson’s disease since it was first documented in 1817 by physician James Parkinson, and yet there is still so much that is not known about this chronic and progressive condition. It seems the time has come to put Parkinson’s at the forefront of public education and more research on prevention and a possible cure. In the last few years, several leading neurologists have been sounding the alarm on a highly probable pandemic of new cases over the next 20 years. Dr. Ray Dorsey, a neurologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center and co-author 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. His co-author, Dutch neurologist Bastiaan Bloem, MD, a professor at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center, told Parkinson’s News Today 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.
Dorsey, Bloem and other neurologists point to Parkinson’s disease being the fastest-growing neurological condition on the planet. Many of them believe the upcoming surge in cases is due to widespread exposure to herbicides, solvents and other toxic chemicals used in manufacturing and farming. 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.
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.
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.