Degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's represent some of the largest challenges facing medical researchers today. These diseases not only rob us of control over our own bodies, but slowly sap our mental capabilities as well. Like most diseases, however, they are best detected early on, when we can at least slow down the progress of the disease, hopefully until better treatments are found. To do this, we must be aware of the early symptoms and signs that point to Parkinson's.
Note: Don't panic if you have one or more of these symptoms, as they can be related to other issues. However, to stay on the safe side, if you think there is even a small chance you are showing early signs, please get tested, if only for your own peace of mind. If you do have it and you catch it early, the prognosis (a prediction about how something as an illness will develop) will be much better for you.
Here are 8 early symptoms of the onset of Parkinson's disease.
1. A change in handwriting
If a person's handwriting starts to go from big and free to small and cramped, this may well be an early sign of Parkinson's. The telling signs are letters that get smaller and words that seem crowded together with letters almost written on each other. Many patients also take longer to write and have trouble with repetitive tasks.
2. A reduced sense of smell
If someone is suddenly having trouble smelling pungent foods or picking up on scents, they should go see a doctor. Most times it has to do with sinuses, and it's definitely not one of the most obvious signs of Parkinson's, but doctors say patients with Parkinson's claim it is the earliest sign they had of the disease. While studies haven't proven the link between the symptom and the disease, a working theory is that certain proteins form clumps in the brain and may form in the olfactory area, reducing our sense of smell.
3. Trouble sleeping
Another symptom that can be easily ignored because it's so common, is the sudden inability to sleep well, even if you're usually a sound sleeper. Suddenly you toss and turn, your limbs move and twitch during sleep, or you may even wake up on the floor, having fallen from bed. Ask your significant other if you are making a lot of movements at night, and go see a doctor if it persists.
4. A quieter, softer voice or an expressionless face
A softer voice and a masked face are common signs of Parkinson's. Some will not notice they are speaking at a softer tone, and they definitely won't notice their face losing expression, so it is up to the people around them to be aware of these signs. Speaking too rapidly or stammering a lot is also a symptom.
Obviously many patients develop depression after learning they have Parkinson's, but there is a physical link between the deterioration that comes with Parkinson's and depression. Some patients get depressed years before the other symptoms of the disease appear. Lower-than-normal secretions of serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters invovled with many bodily functions as well as mood, can cause this effect.
If you find that you've seriously reduced the number of times you move your bowels, sometimes even skipping a day - that's not a good sign, even if it's not Parkinson's, and so you should check it out. The disease has an effect on the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for unconscious processes such as digestion and bowel function. Constipation on its own is usually nothing to worry about, but if it comes with some of the other symptoms on this list - go get checked immediately.
7. Shaking / tremors while perfectly relaxed
Shaking is perfectly normal under certain circumstances. We may be excited or anxious, have just finished a workout or are feeling restless. But small shakes in our fingers, our hands, our chin, lip of full limbs while we're at rest could be a strong sign of Parkinson's, according to the National Parkinson Foundation. This symptom appears in about 70% of patients and can become more noticeable during stress or excitement. This symptom usually arrives AFTER the other symptoms on this list though. However, many a time it is the first one truly noticed, as the others can all have other explanations.
8. Stiffness and slowness of movement
Stiffness in the joints that doesn't go away, coupled with muscle weakness that's here to stay can spell bad news. Suddenly everyday tasks like buttoning your shirt, walking or fixing things around the house become bothersome and difficult. You stop swinging your arms as you walk and your legs and feet feel heavy and 'stuck to the floor'. If you start hesitating before taking steps, or people are commenting that you look stiff or sore - please see a doctor.