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The Ezra Home Care Blog

4 Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease and How Home Care Can Help You Cope

Jan 22, 2018 |

Parkinson's Disease is a complex illness that affects each of its sufferers in different ways. There are some primary symptoms, however, that most Parkinson's sufferers will identify. Here are four of the key symptoms, what causes them, and how you or a loved one can learn to live with them.

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Symptom #1: Muscle Rigidity

Muscle rigidity is one of the most common symptoms of Parkinson's, as outlined by the American Parkinson’s Disease Association. It is also one of the earlier symptoms. It occurs when the muscles in the arm, leg, or neck stiffen involuntarily, and affects more than 90% of Parkinson's patients at some time.

For many people, a stiff or painful shoulder is the first noticeable sign of Parkinson's. Rigidity can present as unilateral (on one side of the body) or bilateral (on both sides). Other areas affected could be the hips, ankles and the neck and trunk (axial rigidity).

Stiffness in the muscles leads to restricted movement, and can be painful. It can cause frustration, since mobility issues caused by muscle rigidity in turns causes more stiffness, thus perpetuating the problem.

Involuntary muscle stiffness can also cause further problems. Even if the balance centers of the brain are not affected, the lack of movement in the legs and arms can make walking stilted and uneven; small tasks that require dexterity, such as buttoning a shirt, can become difficult.

Other symptoms related to muscle rigidity include:

  • Axial rigidity can lead to a stooped posture
  • Difficulty controlling facial expressions
  • Pain, muscle cramps and feelings of “tightness”

In short, muscle rigidity is extremely disruptive to daily life, and in time, can impact everything from freely getting in and out of a chair, to eating and communicating.

There are treatments and therapies that can improve muscle rigidity and the problems it causes.

  • Exercise - One of the best ways to keep as much movement in the muscles is to maintain a regular exercise routine. This can feel challenging, especially if the muscle rigidity is making control of movements difficult, but a combination of flexibility and strength exercises will prove extremely beneficial.
  • Speech Therapy - If the facial muscles stiffen, it can often lead to a mask-like, rigid expression, which can make it very difficult to communicate effectively. A speech therapist can help by showing which facial muscles to exercise, and how to keep them flexible.
  • Medication - The medication most frequently used to help rigidity in Parkinson's Disease is called Levodopa (L-Dopa). This drug eases symptoms by encouraging the body to produce more dopamine, a chemical responsible for sending messages to the brain, that stops being produced due to Parkinson's Disease.

Symptom #2: Resting Tremors

A tremor (an involuntary movement from contracting muscles) that is most prominent at rest is called a resting tremor, and it is the first symptom to arrive for three out of every four people with Parkinson's Disease.

The trembling or shaking is often in the hands, but it can also affect the feet. Hand tremors are often referred to as 'pill-rolling' tremors, as it looks like the person affected is rolling a pill (or cigarette/coin) between their thumb and index finger.

The lack of dopamine production is one of the fundamental causes of Parkinson's Disease. When there is no dopamine in the parts of the brain that support movement, critical messaging and sensory feedback that controls complex movements are disrupted. While it has not yet been clinically proven, it's believed this is the main cause, or a contributing factor, of resting tremors and a number of other symptoms.

The medical treatment for resting tremors is L-Dopa, as above. There are also some things that affect this symptom.

  • Stress – Stress, frustration and fatigue can make tremors worse, so managing stress levels is very important for Parkinson's sufferers. This can be difficult, because the nature of the disease makes it stressful and frustrating to carry out even the simplest of tasks at times. Learning techniques to manage frustration, and getting adequate rest, can help reduce stress levels. Making adjustments to your surroundings can also help. For example, choosing clothes that are easier to put on and take off.
  • Multi-Tasking - Trying to stand while carrying out tasks with your upper body can make tremors more difficult to manage. Sitting while using your hands to shave, brush teeth, or cook, for example, makes it easier to control the muscle function in the hands and arms.
  • Stabilizing - Stabilizing a part of the body is a good technique to reduce tremors. Resting the elbows on a table when using your hands is the most obvious and effective way of stabilizing.
  • Medication Logging - Taking medication in the correct doses, and on time, will help reduce tremors. It's important to keep a thorough routine with medication, as this will also help identify what times of the day the tremors are at their worst. Keeping a log of these times will help to plan the best times to carry out activities, and help the person with Parkinson's have an idea of what to expect over the course of their day.

Symptom #3: Bradykinesia

Slowness in initiating movement is called Bradykinesia, and more or less affects everyone with Parkinson's. This slowness in movement impacts motor skills. It can make tasks that have a number of steps very challenging for Parkinson's patients, and can cause other symptoms such as a shuffle in the person's walk, or slow, soft speech that is difficult to understand.

Some people with Parkinson’s find it difficult to write, and it can feel as though the body is not obeying instruction the way it used to. This can result in slowed movement, as well as a lack of spontaneous movement, such as the swing in the arm while walking.

Bradykinesia can also be responsible for episodes of freezing, immobility, or the feeling that your feet are completely stuck to the floor. Bradykinesia can account for most of the walking and balance challenges that is associated with Parkinson's, but there are some ways to help.

  • Physical Therapy - Some people find that physical therapy helps with their Bradykinesia. A qualified physical therapist can recommend exercises that can help improve issues to do with walking or gait, as well as offer good advice on coping strategies.
  • Visualization - Visualization techniques can also work well for those suffering from Bradykinesia. Understanding the task ahead can help Parkinson's sufferers anticipate a series of movements, and in turn have quicker reaction times. For example, taking a moment to contemplate a journey from the bedroom to the kitchen, and the various physical challenges that might be involved - stairs, moving around furniture, etc - will help the body to make conscious maneuvers.
  • Adapting – Physical aids and adaptation are also vital tools when it comes to living with Parkinson's and assisting mobility. Adaptive tools such as weighted utensils, clothing with elastic waists and Velcro fastenings, and walking aids can all help when mobility becomes affected by Parkinson's symptoms. Adaptation to the home can be necessary as the disease progresses, and installing ramps, grab bars and barrier-free bathrooms can all assist living at home safely.

Symptom #4: Postural Instability

Poor posture and balance issues, even while standing still, is another primary motor symptom of Parkinson’s Disease. As a result, falls become a significant risk factor.

Postural instability is most common in the later stages of Parkinson's, and is prevalent when trying to carry out activities such as getting out of bed, turning or pivoting, and when standing still. Because of the risk factor involved, it can be one of the more distressing and debilitating symptoms of Parkinson's Disease, and it is unfortunately also the least treatable.

As this symptom is not linked to a lack of dopamine, medication is not effective in treating postural instability. Physical exercise has been shown to help slightly, but it is a fact that a diagnosis of postural instability will mean reduced mobility for the person in question.

Parkinson’s Care at Home

Learning to live with a progressive, incurable disease such as Parkinson's can be challenging, and at times, distressing. As quality of life is a number one priority for sufferers, putting a Parkinson’s care plan in place is important.

For those who do not want to leave the familiar surroundings of their home, or whose family are not able to provide the level of care required, a Home Care company can help Parkinson's patients plan for the future, and continue to live safely in the comfort of their own home.

Qualified, specialist Home Care Aides can implement a tailored Parkinson’s Support program to help with daily functions as they become more difficult. This can include assistance with:

  • Bathing
  • Getting dressed
  • Meal preparation
  • Medication reminders
  • Providing physical therapy exercise reminders
  • Transportation to doctor appointments, or shopping

A Home Health Aide can also suggest appropriate aids, as per the individual's own developing needs.

Safety at home is a priority for people with Parkinson's Disease. A Home Care provider can help reduce your need to worry, as they can be there to help during difficult times of the day - whether it’s during a tremor episode, or to help with key activities of daily living.

Find out how Ezra Home Care can help you or a loved one cope with the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease by calling us to talk to a member of our dedicated and compassionate team.

TAGS: Parkinson's Care Mobility Issues Elder Care Home Care

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Susan Z. Robins, Vice President, Sales and Marketing

About Susan Z. Robins, Vice President, Sales and Marketing

Susan brings to Ezra Home Care more than 25 years of experience helping organizations, inside and outside healthcare, increase brand awareness, market share and revenues. She is responsible for developing Ezra Home Care’s sales and marketing strategy which includes increasing referral partner relationships, improving community relations, and developing and implementing the company’s online marketing strategy.

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