Parkinson’s disease: understanding it better in 4 questions
An elderly person in your life has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and you are wondering how to deal with it. We will try to help you understand this disease in 4 essential questions. First of all, it is important to learn a little about what Parkinson’s disease is, exactly. It is then necessary to identify its causes and understand its evolution. Then, it becomes relevant to ask which population is mainly affected by this disease. The next question concerns the different symptoms to watch out for. Knowing how to recognize them can even help the quality of life of the person affected. Finally, you may be wondering what to do about this diagnosis. This is a normal reaction. And this is true for both the person with the disease and their loved ones. It is therefore interesting to review the different options in this regard to know how to react. The objective is to learn how to live better with Parkinson’s disease.
1) What is Parkinson’s disease?
Almost everyone knows someone, from near or far, who has Parkinson’s disease. But what exactly is it? In short, it is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the various movements of the body.
It is in fact neurons in the substantia nigra, an important part of the brain, that disappear as the disease progresses. It is a chronic disease that often progresses slowly. The precise causes are still unknown. However, certain genetic and environmental factors could play a role in the progressive destruction of these neurons, leading to Parkinson’s disease.
2) Are older people more likely to develop this disease?
When we ask ourselves who is most at risk of developing this disease, we realize that seniors are indeed the most affected. It is said that the average age of onset of symptoms is around 65 years old. According to Statistics Canada, among people living at home, the age group of 65 years or older represents about 79% of people with Parkinson’s disease. In long-term care facilities, this figure rises to 97%.
Statistics also show that men are at a slightly higher risk of being affected by this disease, with 0.3% of the population for men versus 0.2% for women. This proportion is even somewhat higher when we look at seniors who no longer live at home.
3) What are the symptoms?
Knowing how to recognize the symptoms of this disease can lead to an early diagnosis. Even if there is no cure, it is important to identify the symptoms early when possible. According to statistics, for an elderly person, the average time between the first symptoms and the diagnosis is almost 2 years. In the younger population, this delay can be much higher because the symptoms are often attributed to something else before concluding that it could be Parkinson’s disease. Regardless of age, it is important to remain vigilant about the changes caused by this disease.
The main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease is characterized by symptoms affecting mainly the motor system. These motor disorders are often the ones that contribute to the diagnosis. They concern all the movements of our body.
Among these three main symptoms, we find :
- tremors (especially at rest) ;
- slowness of movements (also called bradykinesia) ;
- as well as rigidity, which is associated with stiffness, muscle pain, cramps, decreased range of motion (hypokinesia), etc.
When we talk about these motor symptoms, we can imagine that they probably affect certain everyday movements. Among these activities of daily living, one might notice a change in posture and gait. Because of the tremors, one may also notice a decrease in dexterity, for example. Over time, the handwriting of people suffering from Parkinson’s may become smaller and smaller, making it difficult for others to read (micrographia).
Other impacts of this disease on general health
Even aside from the main motor symptoms, Parkinson’s disease can manifest itself in other quite different symptoms. These include:
- sleep disorders;
- speech problems;
- balance that becomes more difficult;
- cognitive problems;
- and sometimes other impacts depending on the person and the severity of the disease.
These symptoms are often non-specific but are still associated with Parkinson’s disease. If you think you recognize them, do not hesitate to ask your doctor who will be able to help you or guide you, if necessary, towards a specialist such as a neurologist for example.
4 ) What to do when faced with this diagnosis?
An elderly relative has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease? You should know that when faced with a recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s, no two people will react in the same way. In all cases, it is important to respect the person’s reaction. Acceptance will come at a different pace for each person. However, you can probably help with this situation as a caregiver. Ideally, you should be able to offer support without interfering with the senior’s independence. Depending on the stage of the disease and the progression of symptoms, the needs will differ.
Exercise and healthy lifestyle habits
First of all, good lifestyle habits can help. For a person with Parkinson’s, it is recommended to avoid as much as possible the different elements that could stimulate more stress and anxiety. So, if you know that certain things are anxiety-provoking for a senior loved one with Parkinson’s, it is best to see about changing them in their daily routine.
Regular physical activity is strongly encouraged! It has been proven that physical exercise, practiced on a daily basis, can reduce the symptoms and limitations that result from it. The same is true for stretching exercises and activities such as yoga. This helps maintain good muscle strength, more stability when walking, better posture and limits potential decreases in range of motion.
If you are affected by Parkinson’s, or if an older person around you is, do not neglect the benefits of sports and physical activity in general. We suggest that you choose activities that you enjoy doing so that it is fun. This way, it’s also easier to stay consistent.
If you are looking for ideas, Parkinson Canada suggests different exercises for people with Parkinson’s disease. If in doubt, ask your doctor or a physiotherapist for advice.
The importance of home care and adapting your environment
As the disease progresses, the symptoms can unfortunately become more severe. If daily life begins to be affected, keep in mind that there are solutions! In order to be able to live better with Parkinson’s disease, you must first adapt your environment. The services of an occupational therapist can sometimes be useful. Take the time to discuss this with your health care professional.
Among the solutions, home care is a very interesting option. The advantages are numerous and cover many aspects. While remaining in the comfort of one’s own home, it is possible to receive the necessary home care assistance to function properly. This is what Visavie can offer you.
Our counselors will guide you towards personalized services that correspond to the real needs of seniors affected by this disease. Our teams of professional caregivers will then be happy to accompany any person in their daily tasks. For more information on Visavie’s home care services, please contact us!
We also offer specialized in-home care for seniors with Parkinson’s disease. Our goal is to provide maximum well-being and optimal quality of life. We want seniors who wish to do so to be able to remain safely in the family home.