Caring For Someone with Parkinson’s Disease

Let’s take a look at Parkinson’s disease to get a better understanding of how you can provide care for someone suffering from this degenerative disorder.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

 

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that attacks the nervous system and affects a person’s ability to move their body. Symptoms gradually appear in the form of slight tremors and stiff muscles, and they slowly worsen over time. Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are medications and treatment options available to help the nearly 1 million people in the United States who live with this condition.

The Five Stages of Parkinson’s Disease

When a person is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, doctors often use a scale to determine the stage at which they’re currently suffering. The Hoehn and Yahr scale has been used since 1967, and it allows patients to describe their motor symptoms on a scale of 1 to 5.

Additionally, the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) can be used to determine a person’s current stage. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, this scale is better because it takes into account not only a person’s motor symptoms, but also their non-motor symptoms like mood, cognition and social problems.

Here’s a breakdown of each stage of Parkinson’s disease:

Stage 1

A person has mild symptoms like hand tremors that don’t interfere with daily activities. These symptoms occur on only one side of the body. A person may also experience changes in posture and facial expressions. They may notice that their hands don’t swing when they walk.

Stage 3

At this point, a person is at mid-stage, and will begin to have trouble with their balance. Slow, stiff movements are common and can cause a person to fall. A person with stage 3 Parkinson’s disease can still live alone, but daily activities like eating and getting dressed are becoming increasingly more difficult.

Stage 2

Symptoms may begin to increase and will start to occur on both sides of the body. A person with stage 2 Parkinson’s disease may also have trouble walking and their posture may be stooped. They can still live alone, but it may be more difficult to perform basic daily tasks.

Stage 4

A person with stage 4 Parkinson’s disease suffers from symptoms that are severely impacting their life, making it impossible to live alone. They may be able to stand without assistance, but will likely need a walker to get around.

Stage 5

At this most advanced stage, a person is unable to walk, and will need the assistance of a wheelchair. In some cases, a person may be bedridden. This stage requires assistance around the clock, and a person with stage 5 Parkinson’s disease may experience hallucinations and delusions.

What are the Risk Factors of Contracting Parkinson’s Disease?

 

According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors and researchers still haven’t pinpointed the cause of Parkinson’s disease, but they’ve identified several risk factors. Most likely, Parkinson’s disease is caused by a combination of environmental exposures and genetics.

Genetics

Some genetic mutations have been linked to a person's chances of developing Parkinson's disease, but the increased risk is very small. Generally, it seems as though the more family members a person has with PD, the more likely it is that they'll also develop this condition.

Age

Parkinson's disease is more commonly diagnosed in older adults. In fact, according to the Parkinson's Foundation, only 4% of people are diagnosed with this condition before age 50.

Environmental Exposures

Exposure to certain toxins like pesticides and herbicides have been linked to a higher likelihood of developing Parkinson's disease, but the increased risk appears to be very small.

Sex

Men are 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Researchers aren't sure why, but women don't develop this condition as often as men do.

What are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

Symptoms of PD vary from person to person, but in all patients, they steadily increase over time. Here are some of the most common symptoms:

Tremor

This may look like a shaky hand or a pill-rolling motion. It’s often one of the first noticed symptoms of this condition.

Sexual Dysfunction

A lack of sexual desire is common as well as a decrease in performance.

Bradykinesia

Slowed movement that makes it hard to perform basic tasks like walking, standing and dressing oneself.

Posture and Balance Problems

A person may have a stooped posture and may have trouble maintaining their balance.

Bladder/Bowel Problems

It may be difficult to control urine and a patient may have trouble due to a slower digestive tract.

Writing Changes

Like tremors, this symptom often appears early. Handwriting may change or appear smaller as writing becomes more difficult.

Loss of Automatic Movements

This includes movements like blinking, facial expressions and swinging your arms when you walk.

Rigid Muscles

This can occur anywhere in the body, and it causes pain and a limited range of motion.

Speech Changes

A softer voice, slurred speech, hesitating before talking or a monotone voice are all common speech changes.

Smell Dysfunction

A decreased sense of smell and difficulty identifying certain odors.

It should also be noted that many non-motor symptoms are experienced by people suffering from Parkinson’s disease. This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Sleep behavior disorders
  • Cognitive Impairment (dementia)

What are Other Health Conditions Associated with Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease isn’t a terminal condition, but its symptoms and subsequent health conditions can cause serious health problems that may require increased assistance as it progresses. Several cognitive problems occur as PD progresses, including dementia. Oftentimes, cognitive problems don’t respond to medication.

People with Parkinson’s disease also suffer from eating and swallowing problems where saliva pools in the mouth, causing drool. Additionally, chewing difficulties increase a person’s chances of choking and suffering from nutrition deficiencies.

Sleep disorders are common for people with PD, causing them to wake frequently or fall asleep during the daytime hours. Some people with Parkinson’s disease also suffer from REM sleep behavior disorder, where they act out their dreams while asleep, causing an increased risk of injury to themselves and their partners.

Mental health problems like depression and anxiety are also common among people who have PD. Treatment is available and can provide relief.

How a Family Caregiver Can Assist Someone with Parkinson’s Disease

A person’s experience with Parkinson’s disease is unique, and no doctor can determine the rate at which his or her disease will progress. Although there’s no cure, there are many medications and treatments available to help slow the progression of PD.

If you are caring for someone with Parkinson’s disease, you will likely need to provide more assistance as the disease progresses. This may include helping your loved one to bathe and dress and eat, and you’ll need to drive them to various appointments. It’s a lot of work to take care of someone with a debilitating disease, and PASCO is here to support caregivers like you.

PASCO’s Family Caregiver Program was designed to reimburse individuals for their time spent taking care of loved ones with diseases like Parkinson’s. If you’d like to learn more about our program, contact us today.

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