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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
- 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.