What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s Diseases (PD) is a progressive brain disorder that affects the patient’s motor functions and results in abnormal movements. The progress of the disease takes place gradually and it gets more serious over time. The disease is complex and it is difficult to accurately diagnose it as the seriousness of the disease can vary from one patient to the next. It is even possible that the disorder can be overlooked as most people might dismiss it as a normal part of aging or treat it as another disorder.
Patients with PD tend to shake a lot, experience stiffness in their body and have difficulties with walking and coordination.
In addition, patients also do experience non-movement symptoms and these include mental, behavioural and emotional changes.
- Sleep problems such as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep disorder
- Memory difficulties
- Irregular blood pressure
- Difficulties digesting food
What are the causes and consequences of Parkinson’s Disease?
There is no exact cause of Parkinson’s disease. However, there is a scientific explanation behind the abnormal movements commonly displayed by patients with PD, which is linked to the brain. The ‘substantia nigra’ which is found in an area of the brain is responsible for movements in our body. Movement problems will occur when the nerve cells in that area become impaired and/or die. On the other hand, the loss of norepinephrine (which is responsible for heart rate and blood pressure) results in the non-movement symptoms of PD such as fatigue and irregular blood pressure.
Parkinson’s disease usually occurs among elderly people around 50 years old. The characteristic of the disease is not because of genetic reasons. It can happen randomly and may be due to both genetic and environment factors such as exposure to certain toxins.
The main common symptoms of PD is
- Stiffness of limbs
- Slow movements
- Difficulties with walking, balance and coordination
Tremor refers to the shaking in hands, arms and legs. It can also happen in the jaw or feet and it is uncontrollable. The most common tremor is known as the ‘Pill rolling tremor’ which is when the thumb and forefinger rubs back and forth frequently. Watch an example of a ‘Pill rolling tremor’ here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e532YW-Zwf0
Stiffness of limbs refers to the rigidness of the muscle. As the muscles can no longer relax as per normal, this makes it hard and painful to move other parts of the body.
Slowness of movement is when doing daily activities becomes more difficult and sluggish. Bradykinesia is a condition when your brain’s signal to parts of the body slows down which results in an expressionless look found in most PD patients.
Difficulties with walking, balance and coordination characteristics:
- Arm/arms stopped swinging when walking
- Short, shuffled steps
- Forward/backward lean can lead to falls
- Difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking
- Speech problems
- Urinary problems, constipation
- Skin problems such as dandruff
- Depression, anxiety, fear
- Memory problems, dementia
- Feeling lightheaded when standing up
- Stooped posture with head bowed down and shoulders slumped
Note: These symptoms might not be indicative of PD only and it can be for another disorder. It is better to see a doctor if you suspect that you or your loved one might have PD.
Parkinson’s disease can be detected early by family members or friends through indications of early symptoms. These can be in the form of mild tremors such as when the hands start shaking slightly, general slow movement in speech, writing and thinking and when the facial expression of the patient lacks animation. It is best to confirm the diagnosis of PD with a doctor so if you observe a loved one experiencing any of these systems, ensure that they see a doctor immediately so that they can get help as early as possible.
How to help patients with Parkinson’s?
Although the disease is mostly uncontrollable as there is no cure, there are still ways to manage the symptoms and to slow down the rate of the disease. These include:
|Medical care||Sticking to a medication schedule & eating their medicines regularly|
|Assistive devices & home modifications||Making it easier to deal with the symptoms such as walking difficulties and preventing falls|
|Diet (consult your respective doctor/nutritionist/dietician)||
A change in their dietary patterns will help with symptoms such as constipation (e.g. turmeric can help with bowel movements)
For other symptoms such as dementia or memory problems, eating food such as salmon and soybeans can help with improving cognitive function.
Each patient will have a different way of managing the symptoms depending on the severity of their condition.
You can also help these patients emotionally by improving their mental wellness. Encourage them to attend programmes that will help to lift their mood and elevate their energy. Activities such as tai chi, yoga and doing meditation can help with managing their feelings so they will feel better and less depressed.
Besides these activities, they can also receive emotional support through counsellors, support groups and also from organizations providing support for Parkinson’s Disease. As an example, Parkinson Society Singapore has a ‘Community Outreach & Caregiver Support’ in which they provide counselling services not only for patients but also for their caregivers.
Parkinson’s disease in Singapore
There is an estimate of about 8000 patients in Singapore and this figure is expected to increase by 2030 especially since Singapore is an ageing population and the elderly are living longer years. As such, it is important to educate the public and raise awareness about PD. Even if there is no cure for it, there is still a way to manage the symptoms and reduce the effects through medical care, physiotherapy, healthy diet and regular exercise.
Parkinson Society Singapore is an organization dedicated to PD patients. It has organized a variety of programs not only to treat patients but also to improve the quality of their lives and educate the public about Parkinson’s Disease. Click here to learn more about the organization.