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What is Parkinson's disease? Symptoms to watch for Elderly People

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

Around 145,000 people in the UK have Parkinson’s disease and every day two more are added to the list. One in 37 people alive today will be diagnosed with the condition at some time, and it is especially common for elderly people.

This means that most of us will in some way be touched by the Parkinson’s, whether we have it ourselves or need to help to care for a loved one.

While there is no known cure for Parkinson’s there are many ways to manage it, and to alleviate symptoms that can help those with the condition to live well and maintain their independence.

With that in mind, we explore the symptoms and causes and possible treatments for Parkinson’s.

About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder which attacks the nervous system. The most recognisable symptom is the shaking which can dramatically reduce mobility. These start slowly – you might first notice a very slight tremor in your hand or find you’re experiencing stiffness or trouble moving. Speech can become slurred, and you may find your face starts to show little or no expression. Everything becomes stiffer – as you walk your arms may stop swinging causing giving your gait a slightly jerky appearance.

Sadly, there is no known cure for Parkinson’s. The good news is that if you catch Parkinson’s early, and take the right medications, you can do a great deal to improve your symptoms and your quality of life. Indeed, the more our understanding of Parkinson’s improves, the more ways we’re finding to slow its progress.

Parkinson’s disease symptoms

The exact symptoms can vary and will be different for everyone.

They will often start on one side of the body and spread. Even when they affect the whole body one side will likely be worse than the other.

Early symptoms of Parkinson’s in elderly people

  • Changes to your handwriting: One early symptom could be changes to your handwriting. This requires high levels of dexterity so is often one of the first things to go. You may find it becoming difficult to write and your handwriting becoming much smaller.

  • Slowing movement: As the disease progresses your movement may become slower and simple tasks feel more difficult and time consuming. Steps become shorter and you may find yourself adopting something of a shuffling gait.

  • Stiffness: Parkinson’s causes your muscles to become more rigid. You may experience stiffness and moving may become more painful.

  • Loss of balance: You may find yourself finding it more difficult to maintain your balance and your posture may become more stooped.

  • Shaking: The most recognisable symptom is a rhythmic shaking which usually begins in one of your limbs. It might manifest itself as a shaking in your hands and fingers. Your hand may tremble when at rest. However, shaking might lessen when you are performing tasks.

  • Slurred speech: One of the early issues people with Parkinson’s disease mention is that their speech patterns appear to be changing. This can happen imperceptibly at first and can be hard to spot. You may find yourself hesitating over words or developing a monotone to your voice. Over time, though, that slurred speech can get worse.

  • Loss of automatic movements: Throughout the day, our body performs countless automatic movements we’re not even aware of, such as blinking, smiling or moving our arms as we walk. With the onset of Parkinson’s disease, all of these automatic movements become more difficult.

In addition to these, you may also experience several other complications including cognitive problems, depression, mood swings and anxiety.

Often low mood is caused by a feeling of loss of autonomy – particularly in the early stages. Using devices, such as a personal alarm can help to provide a feeling of confidence which helps to keep a sense of independence and safety.

How do you know when Parkinson’s is getting worse?

As the disease enters its later stages it will affect the muscles in the mouth making it more difficult to swallow. Saliva may accumulate in the mouth causing drooling. You may also struggle to control your bladder and may also develop constipation as your digestive tract becomes slower.

While this can be distressing for the person living with the disease and their loved ones, often knowing what to expect and tackling this at an early stage will give the patient more say over how they wish to be treated later.

What causes Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s is caused by certain nerve cells in the brain gradually breaking down or dying. Lost neurons make it more difficult to produce a chemical messenger in the brain called dopamine. When levels decrease, it causes unusual brain activity which leads to the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The exact causes are unknown but heightened risk factors include:

  • Age: People are much more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease over the age of 60.

  • Gender: Men are at a greater risk than women.

  • Exposure to toxins: There is some evidence that exposure to herbicides may increase your chances of developing Parkinson’s.

Having a member of the family with Parkinson’s might mean you are more susceptible, but this increased risk is small unless you have lots of family members who have had the condition. Some gene variations do lead to an increased risk but, once again, these are relatively low.

Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease

Although there is no cure, there are treatments you can take including medications, lifestyle changes and, in some cases, surgery.

Medications work by increasing levels of dopamine in your brain leading to restored function. They cannot introduce dopamine directly as it can’t enter the brain. What medications can do, though, is provide the building blocks which stimulate dopamine production. For example, Levodopa, is a natural chemical which enters the brain at which point it is converted into dopamine. Combining it with carbidopa prevents the levodopa being converted into dopamine outside of the body and lessening its impact.

In more extreme cases, doctors may recommend surgery using deep brain stimulation. This plants electrodes in your brain which is connected to a generator implanted near the collarbone. This sends electrical pulses to your brain which can reduce the severity of Parkinson’s symptoms.

One of the more advanced areas is MRI ultrasound which targets affected areas of the brain with ultrasound. This burns those areas which are contributing to the tremors.

Unfortunately, although these treatments can slow the advance of Parkinson’s disease, they cannot stop it completely. Some lifestyle changes, such as staying active and getting plenty of exercise, can help. There is also some evidence that people who consume plenty of caffeine might be at a lower risk of Parkinson’s. However, evidence for this is inconclusive. The best thing to do is to understand the symptoms and seek medical advice as quickly as possible. The sooner you do you, the greater your chances of slowing down the disease and enjoying a fuller and more active life for longer.

How personal alarms can help an elderly person with Parkinson’s

As many symptoms of Parkinson’s can affect balance and mobility, using a personal alarm can help the person to feel more safe and secure should they need assistance after a fall, or if they are unable to get around.

SureSafe alarms have several features which are particularly beneficial for those who are living with Parkinson’s Disease

These include:

An emergency SOS button: this allows the wearer to call for help should they get into difficulties or become unwell. Our alarms can be monitored by friends and family, or through our 24/7 response centre who are always on hand to summon the right help.

Automatic fall detection: Our alarms with fall detection will raise the alarm should the wearer fall – without them needing to press the emergency button. This means that, even if the person using the device is unconscious, help will still be summoned.

In addition, a device such as the SureSafe Guardian Plus offers the latest technology for at home personal alarms, and includes welfare checks, medication reminders and home temperature alerts. Ideal for those who want to maintain independence but need a little more support to do so.

If you are looking for a personal alarm that can help you or a loved one who is living with Parkinson’s we are here to support, you. Get in touch with our friendly team on 0800 11203201 and we can talk you through the best options for your circumstances.

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