In honor of World Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month (April) and World Parkinson’s Day (April 11th), KCP Physical Therapy would like to join in the efforts to help spread awareness about this disease that impacts half a million Americans – including some of our own clients.

Parkinson’s disease (PD)may often go undiagnosed, which leads many leading health organizations, such as the NIH, to believe that the actual number of people with the disease in the U.S. is closer to a million. As with many other illnesses and diseases, education is key in diagnosing and managing PD.

We hope you’ll take this opportunity to learn more about Parkinson’s and share what you know.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative condition, known for its progression from small symptoms, like tremors, that gradually get worse over time. It affects the nervous system and parts of the body controlled by nerves. The cause remains unknown, and much is being done to research the disease and a cure.

Michael J. Fox may be one of the most well-known PD sufferers and has helped to promote awareness of the condition. Fox was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 29.  Viewers of the ’90’s sitcom Spin City may remember that he famously kept his hand in his pocket in many scenes, a tactic to hide his tremors from viewers and the camera. After four seasons on the show, he retired from acting to start a foundation that funds Parkinson’s research and began devoting himself full-time to advocacy.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Stiffness and rigidity of muscles are some of the main symptoms of PD.  According to the National Institute on Aging, other symptoms include:

  • Tremors in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
  • Slowness of movement
  • Impaired balance and coordination, sometimes leading to falls

In their list of the top ten early signs of PD, the Parkinson’s Foundation also notes other potential early indicators:

  • Small handwriting
  • Loss of smell
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Constipation
  • Having a low or soft (maybe even breathy / hoarse) voice
  • Having a “masked” face (looking serious, depressed, or mad when not in a bad mood)
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Stooping or hunching over when walking or standing

Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease

Diagnosis of PD can be difficult, as there is currently not a specific test available. A clinical diagnosis will typically depend on a review of your medical history, symptoms, and exam by your doctor or neurologist.

The American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) encourages you to see a doctor if you are experiencing at least two of the core motor symptoms of PD, including tremor, slowness of movement (bradykinesia), or rigidity.

Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease

Since there is no cure for PD, a plan to manage (and hopefully delay) the symptoms is critical. As the Parkinson’s Foundation notes, PD is a life-changing disease.

It will require support.

Those with PD are encouraged to build a care team of various healthcare professionals who can help to manage both the physical and emotional symptoms of PD. Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests a combination of neurologists, physical therapists, speech or occupational therapists, and mental health specialists.

Physical therapy is a key component of PD management. To learn more about how PT can help PD, keep reading! Our next post is titled How Can Physical Therapy Help Treat Parkinson’s Disease?

The Dr. James Parkinson red tulip, pictured above, was named for the man who first documented the condition. Today, it remains a symbol for Parkinson’s Awareness.