Symptoms are usually first noticed over the age of 50 and it is slightly more common in men than women. However although there isn’t a treatment for Parkinson’s and no two people experience it in the same way, your symptoms can be treated and physiotherapy and occupational therapy support can help make daily living easier.
Here you will find a brief overview of symptoms and where to find out more about getting a diagnosis, treatment options and help available from specialist organisations nationally and locally to help you or a relative or friend who has Parkinson’s.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a disease of the brain and central nervous system. It progresses over time and affects movement such as walking, talking and writing. It occurs due to loss of cells in the brain that produce a substance called dopamine.
Dopamine helps transmit messages from your brain to various muscles, particularly those that control and co-ordinate body movement. As more cells die and less dopamine is produced, messages are sent more slowly and abnormally and symptoms of the condition appear when around 80% of the dopamine has been lost. The level of dopamine continues to fall over many years.
Could you be at risk?
The risk of developing Parkinson’s increases with age but the reason why dopamine levels fall is unknown.
In the vast majority of cases it is not hereditary although genes linked to Parkinson’s have been identified. It is rare to find more than one person in a family with Parkinson’s although there is some evidence of genetic susceptibility. Most researchers believe multiple factors play a role.
Parkinson’s tends to develop gradually. Symptoms can vary from person to person and it can be months before people feel they are significant enough to raise with their GP. However if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned below it is important to discuss them with your GP.
The three most common symptoms are:
- Tremor – shaking usually in one arm or hand. It is likely to occur while at rest and decrease when the arm or hand is used.
- Muscle stiffness or rigidity – this may cause problems when attempting to get up out of a chair or fasten a button.
- Slowness of movement – this particularly affects initiating a movement or in the time it takes to complete it.
Some people report other symptoms including constipation, disturbed sleep and depression.
Diagnosis and treatment
If your GP suspects you may have Parkinson’s, you should be referred to a neurologist or geriatrician with expertise in Parkinson’s. It is a complex condition and there isn’t a reliable test that tells whether you have Parkinson’s or not. A specialist with experience of Parkinson’s is needed to diagnose and provide treatment tailored to meet your particular needs on diagnosis and following reviews every 6 – 12 months.
Self care and self management courses are available to help increase your confidence and take more control in managing your condition. Ask your GP if there any Expert Patient courses available locally.
Best treatment guidance
In June 2006, NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) produced guidelines on the diagnosis and effective treatment of Parkinson’s disease. It includes recommendations for all health staff on appropriate treatment, drugs, therapies such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy and other aspects of care.
A patient version of this guidance can be found on their website. It is due to be revised in 2017.
Help and support
Parkinson's UK is a national charity that offers support to people with Parkinson’s and their carers. They have a comprehensive website, a wide range of factsheets and booklets, a telephone helpline and email enquiry service. They also have local support groups for people with Parkinson’s and their carers.
Social care support
If you are having difficulties with day-to-day activities, even with the help of your partner, family and friends, it is important to contact your local social services department and ask for an assessment. This can determine what practical support you and/or your partner may be eligible to receive.
Involvement of an occupational therapist in your assessment can identify any alterations to your home or equipment that would allow you to live there more comfortably and safely.
If you have difficulties with personal care and day-to-day tasks or need watching over to make sure you are all right, you may be eligible to claim a non means tested benefit – Disability Living Allowance/ Personal Independence Payment if you are under 65 or Attendance Allowance if you are 65 and over.
Travel and transport
If you have difficulty walking any distance and using public transport, you may want to contact your local council about a Blue Badge that allows you to park close to where you want to go. It may be necessary for your doctor to be contacted to confirm your need for a Blue Badge.
The GOV.UK website has useful information under the headings ‘money, tax and benefits’; caring for someone’ and ‘travel and transport’
The NHS Choices website provides information about Parkinson’s disease.
Rica is an independent research charity dedicated to providing free, practical and unbiased information of value to older and disabled people.
It has a range of reports on products and services including ‘Getting in and out of a car’, ‘Making your kitchen easier’ and ‘Choosing domestic appliances’. Reports can be downloaded from their website.