Parkinson's Disease is a condition that affects many seniors, yet it is talked about far less often than Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias. No two people experience Parkinson's precisely the same way, yet there are some commonalities. Parkinson's affects about one million people in the United States and 10 million worldwide. It's a condition we frequently see in Assisted Living Communities like Regency Senior Living.
The brain disorder causes a gradual loss of muscle control. Distinctive signs of the disease include tremors, stiffness, slowed body movements, and poor balance. Actor Michael J. Fox and boxer Muhammad Ali developed Parkinson's early in life, at ages 30 and 42 respectively. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone with Parkinson's has a tremor like these celebrities giving a face to the disease.
The symptoms of Parkinson's tend to be mild at first and can sometimes be overlooked as they develop slowly over about 20 years, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. The symptoms may not be apparent for a while. Experts say the life expectancy for those with Parkinson's is about the same as those without the condition.
Some early signs of Parkinson's can be confused with other conditions. These include a rhythmic shaking of fingers or hands while in use, along with stiffness, difficulty getting out of a chair, stooped posture, or a frozen expression on the face. Slowed movement or suddenly freezing in place can also be a sign of the impairment, although usually in the advanced stages. Doctors use these progressive stages to determine the best treatment.
A change in handwriting may be a sign of Parkinson's disease called Micrographia. Writing can naturally change as you get older due to stiff hands or fingers or poor vision impacting your ability to hold a pen and see well.
"If you seem to have more trouble smelling foods like bananas, dill pickles or licorice, you should ask your doctor about Parkinson's," advises the Parkinson's Foundation website. "Have you been told that you have a serious, depressed or mad look on your face, even when you are not in a bad mood? This is often called facial masking."
All seniors can be affected by balance problems that pose the risk of falling, but this is especially true for someone with Parkinson's, which develops as a stooped posture with drooping shoulders. The rigidity of muscles is another sign of Parkinson's and one of the things that doctors examine. He or she may refer you to a neurologist, along with an occupational therapist, physical therapist or speech therapist.
It's essential that someone who has Parkinson's live in an environment where things they can trip on, such as rugs or cords, are removed and grab bars help with mobility in the bathroom. For these reasons, an Assisted Living environment can be a good match for a person with Parkinson's who needs help with simple tasks as motor skills decline.
Beyond the more obvious physical symptoms, people with Parkinson's may sometimes experience difficulty swallowing, confusion and memory problems, restless sleep, daytime fatigue, slurred speech, constipation, oily skin, and dandruff. Mood changes in the form of anxiety and depression also make things more challenging for those with Parkinson's, as well as their caregivers.
A diagnosis from a medical professional can determine whether tremors are from Parkinson's or another condition. A more common source of shaking known as "essential tremor" is distinguished from Parkinson's by getting worse when a hand is in motion, as opposed to stationary.
Experts from the National Parkinson Foundation say the average person with Parkinson's gets the condition at age 62. Males and those with a family history are more likely to have it. Parkinson's occurs when part of the brain stem stops making a chemical called dopamine that helps nerve cells communicate. The disruption causes a failure of the brain to control movement usually.
A drug called Levodopa has been used since the 1970s to treat Parkinson's. Side effects of the drug after long-term use include nausea, drowsiness, hallucinations, paranoia, vomiting, and involuntary movements. Other medications can mimic dopamine. Regular monitoring of the liver may be needed, as well as avoidance of certain antidepressants. In extreme cases, electrodes may be surgically implanted in the brain or radio-frequency energy used to destroy parts of the brain stem associated with tremors, rigidity or bradykinesia.
As with many conditions, a well-balanced diet can positively impact the condition. Calcium and vitamin D help with bone strength while high-fiber meals alleviate constipation. Researchers continue to investigate possible supplements or substances to protect the neurons damaged by Parkinson's.
Exercise also helps to ease the condition by allowing the brain to use dopamine more efficiently, plus getting more exercise improves coordination and balance. The treatment for Parkinson's depends on managing the specific symptoms that manifest since there is no single magic pill to cover everything at this time.
Assisting living communities staffed with compassionate caregivers and grab bars to prevent falls can make life easier and preserve more independence for those living with Parkinson's disease.
To learn more about Parkinson's, visit http://parkinson.org/ To learn more about Regency Senior Living, call (615) 598-0245.
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