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Living with Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder that affects the area of the brain controlling the nervous system. Brain changes caused by the disease can affect a person’s gait, facial expressions, and posture and, as it progresses, can begin to interfere with memory and the ability to make sound judgments. Parkinson’s is the second most common age-related neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, Parkinson’s disease affects nearly 2% of older adults over the age of 65, accounting for nearly 1million cases.  

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s is a movement and sensory disorder. Symptoms of Parkinson’s look different from one person to another because the disease is so diverse. The first signs of Parkinson’s are often so subtle that they go unnoticed, but in later stages, a person can experience movement-related (“motor”) symptoms as well as symptoms unrelated to movement (“nonmotor”). 

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, these are the three telltale Parkinson’s symptoms:  

  1. Tremors. Tremoring, or shaking of the limbs, hands, or fingers, is one of the most visible Parkinson’s symptoms. It usually happens at rest and is sometimes described as a “pill rolling” movement with the forefinger and thumb.
  2. Rigidity. Muscle stiffness can occur in any part of the body and becomes painful if it lasts for long periods. It can affect walking and contribute to a limited range of motion.  
  3. Slowness. Slowness of movement is referred to as “bradykinesia.” It affects automatic movements such as blinking or swinging arms while walking. It can also make it hard to initiate a movement, such as getting up out of a chair. Bradykinesia comes and goes, and its unpredictability makes basic daily tasks harder to complete. In later stages, the loss of automatic movements affects walking, balance and posture.

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

Researchers are still gathering data on Parkinson’s disease, but we do know that several factors increase the risk of developing the disease. Researchers have shown that some specific genetic mutations are directly related to Parkinson’s disease. However, it’s rare to develop these mutations unless the disease is present in many family members. Other mutations increase the risk of Parkinson’s but do not directly cause the disease.

In addition, some researchers have suggested that ongoing exposure to toxins, such as herbicides and pesticides, can slightly increase the risk of Parkinson’s. It’s also been proven that older adults, most of whom are diagnosed around the age of 60, are more at risk of developing Parkinson’s disease when compared to younger adults, just as men are more at risk than women.

Related Health Conditions

Those who’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease may experience other health concerns. These issues usually arise after the disease has progressed. Here are some of the most common health conditions related to Parkinson’s disease according to the Mayo Clinic:

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, nearly 1 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease. Of those diagnosed, nearly 50% to 80% may experience dementia. Along with the typical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, those with dementia are affected by changes in memory, muffled speech, visual hallucinations, depression, daytime drowsiness, and anxiety.

Emotional Changes
There is no cure for Parkinson’s, and it’s normal for someone to struggle with their emotions as they come to terms with their condition. While fear, depression, anxiety, and loss of motivation are understandable at any stage of the disease, some of these symptoms are directly caused by changes in brain health and should be discussed with a physician.

Sleep Disorders
Those with Parkinson’s disease often have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep through the night. Rapid eye movement, which involves acting out your dreams, is also common for those with the disease. These sleep disorders can cause fatigue, especially later in the day. Doctors and healthcare providers can suggest a variety of medical and nonmedical methods to address these disruptions.

Urinary Incontinence
Some people with Parkinson’s disease may experience bladder problems. The most common symptom is urgency even when the bladder isn’t full. Constipation also accompanies Parkinson’s disease due to the slowing of the digestive tract.

Changes in Blood Pressure
It’s not uncommon to feel lightheaded due to a sudden drop in blood pressure.

As the disease progresses, some people may feel pain in different parts of their body, most commonly in the spine, hands, and feet. The pain may occur suddenly or last longer in one area or several.

Treatment Options

Even though there’s no known cure for Parkinson’s, people with the disease can still have a good to a great quality of life. Treatments include medications to manage tremors, stress, and sleep problems. Other alternatives, like surgery, are reserved for patients who have trouble managing tremors with medication. Traditionally, exercise and therapies included in neurorehabilitation are treatment options that help with improving flexibility and balance while reducing rigidity.

There’s a lot we don’t understand about Parkinson’s disease and there are many clinical trials designed to gather more information. These trials include testing new treatments, such as medications, surgery, or therapies on existing patients in hopes of creating a new, successful treatment option.

Managing Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s itself is not fatal, but its complications can be serious. That’s why it’s important to learn how to navigate life as symptoms progress. Many people find the biggest hurdles are managing their overall health and wellness, including taking medication appropriately, getting enough exercise and remaining flexible, and keeping a check on stress and anxiety. While some people living with the disease may wish to remain at home with a caregiver, other options, like assisted living, can provide additional support and peace of mind for the patient as well as the Parkinson’s caregiver.

 Here’s how assisted living communities help:

Health and wellness – A medical management team, on staff at most assisted living communities, can help a person with Parkinson’s improve their symptoms and slow the disease’s progress.  They can also provide individualized care planning, help with medication administration and provide nutritionally balanced and healthy meals reviewed by a registered dietitian.

Physical activity and rehabilitation ­­­– Staying physically active can slow the disease progression and help enhance motor function. Assisted living communities offer daily group exercise classes, individual fitness programs, and physical, occupational and speech therapies to help reduce the loss of motor function and increase flexibility.

Managing stress and anxietyUnmanaged stress and anxiety worsen symptoms like tremors and rigidity. The compassionate staff in an assisted living community can offer support through psychology and psychiatry services, counseling, music therapy, and social programs. They can also connect residents with similar challenges so they can talk to someone else who understands what they’re going through.

Caring for Someone with Parkinson’s Disease 

Hearing about a Parkinson’s diagnosis for the first time can be scary for all involved. Education and knowledge about the disease is the first step to understanding what lies ahead and how to ensure quality of life as it progresses.

John Hopkins Medicine suggests seven  ways to make things easier as a Parkinson’s caregiver:

1. Acceptance. As you come to terms with the diagnosis, it’s important to understand that, with this progressive disease, your role may change over time.

2. Build your network. Find an experienced caregiver you can talk to. Reach out to a local support group early on so you can lean on them when things get tough. They will have great strategies to share on coping with each stage.  

3. Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about the disease. It will reduce anxiety and will prepare you to be the best advocate possible for your loved one.

4. Get support. It’s important to let other family members know about the diagnosis once your loved one is ready. Reach out to your local community, whether it be your neighborhood group or church. Ask for help when you need it.

5. Talk with family. Inform all family members, and involve adult children even if they are busy with their own families. A collaborative family effort will help ease the burden on one person.

6. Find balance. Don’t completely cut yourself off from happiness and enjoyment. Schedule lunch with friends or sit down with a book. You have to keep the balance right.

7. Protect your health. If your health begins to suffer, you’ll be no help to anyone. Be mindful of the amount of stress you are under and how you can step away to reduce your stress. Don’t forget your own doctor’s appointments.

Managing Parkinson’s at Maplewood Senior Living

Because Parkinson’s disease is both a chronic and progressive illness, those who have been diagnosed need high-quality care both physically and emotionally. At Maplewood Senior Living, our assisted living communities are highly skilled in caring for those with Parkinson’s in many ways, such as providing medical attention and offering activities designed to promote physical and mental wellness. If you’re interested in learning more about our offerings or scheduling a tour, we would love to connect with you here. Additionally, we encourage you to download our complimentary Parkinson’s Disease Guide to help you understand the disease.

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