Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder, meaning the loss of function of neurons. It mostly affects dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain. Symptoms are slow to develop and differ quite a bit from person to person.
Parkinson’s disease: Early warning signs
This story is part of an ongoing educational series presented by the Good Samaritan Society addressing Parkinson's disease and those who live with it.
Early signs of Parkinson's disease may be easy to miss.
Victoria Walker, MD, CMD, chief medical and quality officer at the Good Samaritan Society, has answers to hard questions about navigating the waters of an early suspicion of PD.
- At what age do you typically see the onset of Parkinson's?
Usually after the age of 40, but the prevalence increases with age. In other words, we find PD in 41 out of 100,000 people age 40-49, going up to 1,900 out of 100,000 people after age 80.
- What are some of the first noticeable symptoms?
An intermittent tremor that is most noticeable at rest and gets better when doing purposeful activity usually shows up first. This is often worse on one side of the body.
Also, movements may become slower with a decrease in dexterity. You may notice your loved one is having more difficulty tying shoelaces or double-clicking a computer mouse.
Limited facial expressions are another early sign of Parkinson's, as are gait issues. The reflexes in the brain that keep us balanced for standing or walking start to fail. This causes a tendency to feel off balance or trip while walking.
There are nonmotor symptoms as well. This could be anything from mood to sense of smell, taste or sight. It is not unusual for someone with PD to lose their sense of smell completely.
Parkinson's disease has its own set of terms and definitions.
For clarification, we've collected them in one location.
- What are the causes and risk factors?
The cause is a lack of a neurotransmitter chemical (dopamine) in the basal ganglia portion of the brain. This interferes with the normal communication of brain signals that allow us to have smooth movements.
The risk factors are many:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Environmental toxins
- Midlife migraine headaches with aura
- Low vitamin D levels
- Family history
Family history does moderately increase the risk of PD, particularly if symptoms begin before age 50.
If you or a loved one have PD symptoms,
please seek a diagnosis from a doctor.