Could it be Parkinson's?
Despite many visits at his doctors and at state-of-the art facilities through the country, the diagnosis was always the same: “you are suffering from depression.” Yet, Ted Blue knew there was something more because for too long he just had been not feeling well. It took him five years to be diagnosed, and when he found out he had Parkinson’s, it was a relief; now he knew and there was hope. Yes, Ted had lost five precious years of crucial time in slowing down the disease’s impact, but now he could seek treatment and improve his quality of life.
Unfortunately, Ted’s`experience is all too common for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease (PD).
As many as one million people live with PD in the United States, but thousands more go undetected. Many people assume that PD happens to older people, but that’s not always the case. Although most cases occur after a person turns 60, there are more and more “young onset” cases, some starting as young as age 30.
As there is no standard test to conclusively show if a person has PD, it is often misdiagnosed. There are two types of the disease: the tremors type, which is easy to recognize, and the rigid type, which is more subtle and harder to identify. It is imperative that PD be diagnosed by a neurologist with experience.
What is PD? Simply put, it is a decrease of dopamine in the brain. As dopamine controls our body movements, a patient suffering from PD will have diminished muscular control.
The cause of Parkinson’s disease has not been determined. Scientists and researchers are working diligently to uncover the possible cause(s), looking at both genetic and environmental factors. Research has shown that genetic factors account for only 10% of the disease. The major factors are environmental, such as domestic and industrial pesticides and chemicals. All of us are exposed to them on a regular basis, breathing, eating and working around them in our everyday lives.
Although not fatal in itself, PD is a debilitating disease. People with PD experience a significantly decreased quality of life and are often unable to perform the simple daily functions, such as getting out of bed unaided, buttoning a shirt, walking or driving a car. Most individuals are eventually forced to stop working. Sadly, sometimes dementia ensues. PD is not fatal and there is currently no cure for it. However in some cases people have died from related complications, such as pneumonia or deadly falls.
Parkinson’s disease also takes a heavy toll on our health system and is estimated to cost our Nation nearly $25 billion per year. Medication costs for an individual person averages $2,500 a year while therapeutic surgery such as DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation) can cost up to $250,000 per individual.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Keep in mind that PD is considered a “boutique disease” as no two patients have a set of similar symptoms and not every patient will have all the following symptoms:
- Tremors of the hands, arms, legs or jaw
- Rigidity or stiffness of a limb or trunk which does not relax, cramps in the legs and toes
- Postural instability when standing up, pivoting or making quick turns or movements
- Slowness of movements (bradykinesia)
- Lack of swinging of the arms when walking, curved posture
- Difficulty with repetitive movements or regular daily tasks
- Unusual fatigue and loss of energy
- Depression, fear and anxiety
- Decrease in facial expressivity (facial mask)
- Walking with short, shuffling steps and/or uncontrollable acceleration in gait
- Quieter and less distinct speech pattern and/or excessively fast speech (tachyphemia)
- Cognitive impairment (memory difficulties, confusion, dementia, slowed thought process, difficulty concentrating, apathy, poor motivation, word-finding difficulty or poor judgment)
- Slowed reaction times, impaired ability to process visual and spatial information; many patients should not be driving.
- Freezing of gait (as if the feet are glued to the floor)
- Shrinkage in hand-writing (micrographia)
- Reduced swallowing which causes drooling and excess saliva
- Loss of sense of smell
- REM behavior disorder (sleep disorder)
- Mood disorders
- Low blood pressure when standing up
- Vivid dreams (physically acting out their dreams)
If you have several of these symptoms it is recommended that you consult a neurologist.