We never really noticed the subtle Parkinsons symptoms our father had.
Before he was diagnosed, he never complained to mom or to any of us about any out of the ordinary physical problems. That's why our family was in total shock and disbelief when the doctor gave us the Parkinsons diagnosis.
Dad was never one to complain, or to worry about himself, or to go for an annual check-up. The doctor explained that this might have really helped in diagnosing Parkinsons.
-Our father was going through all these physical changes and no one had a clue, no one realized what they meant. The day after we found out, we started paying closer attention to all of our father's movements, hoping that maybe it wasn't true, that maybe the doctor had just made a terrible mistake.
Unfortunately, we did start to pick up many Parkinsons symptoms we hadn't really noticed before. I noticed his facial expressions would often-times seem extremely detached; he'd be staring off into space without any sign of actually seeing anything, almost as if he were asleep with his eyes open.
-I don't know how we could have missed his stooped over posture while he was walking sometimes, as one of the Parkinsons symptoms.
Our father reminded me of Jethro Gibbs, a marine, (no such thing as ex-marine) he always prided himself on his perfect posture, and was forever telling us all to ....stand tall!
-It became clear that our father did indeed have the Parkinsons symptoms and that the doctor had been correct in his diagnosis.We decided to learn everything we could about the disease, hoping to help our dad, and our family prepare for the road ahead.
-What is Parkinsons and What Causes Parkinsons Symptoms?
Named after an English pharmacist, James Parkinson, who first described Parkinsons Disease in "An Essay on the Shaking Palsy" in 1817, it is estimated that as many as one million Americans are afflicted with Parkinsons symptoms.
-Another 55,000 or more people are diagnosed every year.
Parkinsons disease, the most common form of which is known as: Idiopathic (unknown cause) Parkinsons, is a chronic and progressive neurodegenerative movement disorder of the central nervous system.
-Neurodegeneration is the progressive loss of function of neurons, including death of neurons in dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brainstem, which result in Parkinsons symptoms.
-This dopamine stimulates the motor neurons that control the muscles, and when depleted, the motor system nerves are unable to properly control muscular movement and coordination.
By the time Parkinsons symptoms are obvious, patients may have lost 45 to 60 % or more of these dopamine-producing cells. The cause of this dopamine depletion that causes the symptoms of Parkinsons is unknown.Other possible diagnoses
-Other factors that may play a role in its development:
Age of Onset:
Approximately 10 to 20% of people with Parkinsons symptoms are diagnosed with the disease before the age of 50. Of those, only half are diagnosed before age 40. This is known as Young-Onset Parkinsons disease.
Michael J. Fox, diagnosed at the age of 30 in 1991, has young-onset.
-Parkinsons symptoms are very rare in people younger than 30 years old. (Juvenile Parkinsons)
The average year of onset of Parkinsons disease is 55 - 60 years, and the risk of developing the illness increases with age.
-Late Onset Parkinsons is seen after the age of 65.
-Loss of Noradrenaline: (also known as Norepinephrine)
People with Parkinsons also seem to have low levels of this very important chemical messenger, which appears to be caused by damage to the nerve endings that produce it.
-Noradrenaline has multiple roles in the brain: As a neurotransmitter: it helps to regulate the autonomic nervous system, whose job is to regulate blood pressure and other automatic functions in the body. (heart rate, digestion, etc)
As a stress hormone: noradrenaline affects parts of the brain where responding actions and attention are controlled. It also helps trigger the release of glucose, and increases blood flow to the skeletal muscles.
Toxins have also been thought to play a role in diagnosing Parkinsons symptoms in a smaller ratio of individuals. -In one study for example, it was found that persons who had been exposed to pesticides during their lifetime, had a 70% higher incidence rate than those who were not.
Mercury poisoning has also been a suspect component for the development of Parkinsons, since many of the symptoms are similar, although Mercury poisoning can be successfully treated and cured if caught in time.
Exposure to these as well as Manganese and other toxins, in addition to certain viruses may also be triggers for the signs of Parkinsons disease.
-Genetics of Parkinsons:
Approximately 20% of people diagnosed with Parkinsons have at least one relative with Parkinsons symptoms. This tends to suggest to scientists that a genetic factor may possibly exist.
Between five and ten percent of patients actually carry the Parkinsons gene. If you inherit the gene, it doesn't necessarily mean you will have the disease.
Scientists believe genetics may be a contributing factor, but not a sole cause.
Abnormal masses of protein called Lewy bodies are found to develop inside nerve cells in the brains of people with Parkinsons disease.
Exactly how they form and what damage they cause is now being studied.
Primary and Secondary Symptoms of Parkinsons
Early signs of Parkinsons is very difficult to detect, and can even go unnoticed like my dads. Which symptoms may appear and the intensity of the symptoms will also vary from person to person.
-The rate of progression of Parkinsons symptoms can be slowly over the years with minor impairment, or it can quickly become quite disabling.
The symptoms of Parkinsons usually start on one side of the body and the intensity will be worse on this side, even after both sides are affected.
-The Primary Symptoms of Parkinsons Include:
-Bradykinesia: The most common symptom of Parkinsons, bradykinesia is simply a slower muscle response to movement.
People with Parkinsons have a diminished ability to start (Akinesia) and to continue on with normal everyday body movements, and an impaired capability to adjust the body's position.
The simplest of tasks can become quite difficult and very time-consuming.
This slowness in movement is caused by the decrease in dopamine, which delays the signals from the brain to the muscles necessary for body movement.
-The bradykinesia can also affect the muscles of the face, causing an expressionless stare at times, sometimes referred to as stone-face.
In severe or late stage cases of Parkinsons, the ability to initiate movement (Akinesia) may also present itself or become much more severe.
-Rigidity. This stiffness and resistance to passive movement can occur in any part of the body and may be severe enough to limit the range of motion. It may cause considerable muscle pain that often increases with movement. Normal arm swing during walking may cease as a result.
-Tremors. Involuntary shakes or trembling in the arms, hands and fingers is common. Parkinsons tremors may occur in the feet and face as well, usually when the muscles are at rest and not during active movement.
-Poor coordination and balance. Falls are more common in people with Parkinsons, due to the loss in reflexes and lack of muscle control. Balance usually becomes more of a problem in the later stages of Parkinsons.
-Parkinsons gait. The involuntary shortening of the stride and quickening of steps (festination). The signs of Parkinsons are plain, with the slow, shufflingsteps, often with great difficulty in turning.
There is also an inclination to walk leaning far forward and stooped over, with little or no arm swing, which further hinders balance.
-The progressive loss of muscle control from Parkinsons symptoms produces various complications or secondary symptoms.
As with the primary symptoms of Parkinsons, these secondary symptoms will vary in intensity level from person to person, and all people affected with the disease will not necessarily experience all of the symptoms.
-Secondary Parkinsons Symptoms
-Sexual Dysfunction: Not surprisingly, some people with Parkinsons have a decrease in sexual desire as a result of the muscular impairment.
(There is also a psychological component as well)
-Hypophonia: Or soft speech, resulting from a lack of coordination in the vocal musculature due to the disease. Slurred speech may occur as well.
-Sleeping Problems: Difficulty falling asleep, and waking often during the night can be a problem with this illness, as well as sudden sleep attacks during the day as a result.
-Seborrhea: Red or flaky skin in the eyebrows, scalp, or around the nose and face. This condition affects 3% of the population but is more common in older adults and those with neurological conditions like Parkinsons.
-Hyperhidrosis: Excessive sweating may be one of the secondary signs of Parkinsons.
-Constipation: Many people with Parkinsons symptoms will at some point develop constipation due to a digestive tract slowdown or even quite often, as a side effect of the medications used for treatment.
-Urination Problems: Signs of Parkinsons may also include urinary incontinence or retention. (Parkinsons Medications may also cause problem)
-Bradyphrenia: Is a neurological term referring to the slowness of the thought processes common to many disorders affecting the brain.
-Micrographia: Describes the abnormally small, cramped handwriting and/or the progression to continually write even smaller.
-Depression: As with many diseases depression often sets in, helping the depression can make dealing with Parkinsons symptoms much easier task.
-Hypersalivation: Is an excessive secretion of saliva causing drooling and can be caused by the disease or be caused by Parkinsons medications.
-Dysphagia: Or a difficulty in swallowing, a person may also experience pain while swallowing, or choking and coughing from the condition, usually seen in the later stages of the disease.
-Dementia: In the later stages of the disease, a loss of mental abilities or dementia symptoms, much like those in Alzheimers often occurs.
Our family was so very fortunate; the Parkinsons symptoms were not the end all for our dad. It may have been the military training; but instead, with his courageous attitude and some huge, but necessary life adjustments, he is once again leading his life to the fullest.
It's so important for friends and family to be supportive and also to encourage growth and change in response to any disease or setback.
-Many neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinsons, which includes Alzheimers
and Huntingtons disease, occur as a result of this neurodegeneration process.
As research advances, numerous similarities appear which seem to link these diseases to one another on a sub-cellular level.
-These similarities offer hope for the future in therapeutic advances that could help these and perhaps many other diseases simultaneously.
These free books from the National Parkinson Foundation can help.
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