Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurologic condition that affects a person’s ability to move. It is the second most common age-related neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease and has a prevalence of nearly 1 million people in the US, with an additional 60,000 diagnosed each year.
Symptoms typically develop gradually over time and may include a tremor—shaking at rest, bradykinesia—slowness of movement, rigidity—stiff/inflexible muscles, and gait or balance problems—freezing of gait or festinating gait. Due to the variability in presentation and progression of PD, presence of the disease tends to precede a formal diagnosis. While there is no cure for the disease process, extensive research is being conducted exploring various genetic and environmental components.
Due to the complex nature of the disease process, it can be difficult to identify if you or a loved one has PD. Here is a list of 11 early signs that can be associated with PD. No single trait means you should worry, but if you notice more than one of these symptoms, you should consider talking to your doctor.
- Tremors—shaking in your hand, finger, or chin at rest
- Small Handwriting—letter sizes may be smaller, or words may become crowded together
- Loss of Smell—noticing a gradual decline in your ability to smell certain foods
- Difficulty Sleeping—excessive thrashing or sudden movements during deep sleep
- Trouble Moving or Walking—stiffness or slowness in your arms/legs, reduced/absent arm swing
- Falls—falling more frequently, falls are not a normal part of aging
- Constipation—consistent difficulty moving your bowels
- Low or Soft Voice—consistently being told to speak louder by family/friends
- Masked Face—reduced display of facial emotion
- Dizziness or Fainting—do you often feel dizzy upon standing? This can be a sign of low blood pressure and can be linked to PD
- Stooped or Hunched Posture—tending to stoop, slouch, or lean forward while you stand
As mentioned above, there is no cure for Parkinson’s Disease, however there are several treatment options that can improve your overall quality of life and independence. Your doctor will likely start you on medication(s) aimed to reduce your symptoms and improve your ability to move with greater ease.
In addition to medication, movement and exercise is a crucial component for individuals with PD. One recent study found that increasing physical activity to at least 2.5 hours per week can slow the decline in quality of life. Other research suggests that physical therapy can both improve and slow the progression of PD.
Physical therapy treatments such as LSVT BIG and Parkinson Wellness Recovery (PWR!®) are designed specifically for individuals with PD. Each program provides one-on-one individualized treatment specific to your symptoms, abilities, and goals. Consistent participation in these programs can promote neurologic changes, helping individuals “recalibrate” their movements to move bigger and better in daily life.
If interested in learning more about how these treatments can benefit you, Brittany, PT DPT is certified in both BIG and PWR!® programs and is happy to answer any questions you may have.
The sooner intervention can be initiated, the better. Typically, individuals will work with a neurologist who specializes in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. If you have Medicare coverage, you will be required to have orders from your doctor to start PT.
Medicare has undergone recent policy changes in 2018, which has greatly improved access and coverage for individuals with PD, allowing long term management of their condition without denial of coverage for necessary therapeutic intervention.