Common problems are related to early-stage Parkinson’s, and many of these conditions are very common in older adults. Experiencing them doesn’t mean you have Parkinson’s disease, but they are certainly worth discussing with your doctor, especially if you are having several of them at the same time. AARP’s recent article entitled “8 Early Warning Signs of Parkinson’s Disease” discusses them:
- Restless Sleeping. Talking in your sleep, sleep walking and/or acting out your dreams, also known as REM sleep behavior disorder, can be early warning signs of Parkinson’s. A sign of this problem is falling out of bed. If you live with someone else, they will most likely see or hear you acting out your dreams. People may even kick or punch in their sleep or jump out of bed suddenly. If you live alone, you may wake up with twisted sheets, or wake yourself up yelling.
- Loss of Smell. Losing your sense of smell, or hyposmia, can be a side effect of COVID-19. Researchers aren’t quite sure why it’s also associated with Parkinson’s, but there’s a clear connection between the two. This symptom appears in 90% of early-stage Parkinson’s cases.
- Constipation. Parkinson’s doesn’t impact each GI system the same way. However, a change in how often you have a bowel movement — or other digestion changes like bloating, nausea and general discomfort — could be an early warning sign, and worth investigating.
- Anxiety/Depression. Patients can experience depression or anxiety for two to five years before diagnosis. Parkinson’s-induced mood disorder isn’t typically drastic, like major depression, but the change might be noticed by a spouse or family member — for example, when a normally happy person starts to become a worrier.
- Soft Voice. About 89% of those with Parkinson’s will have speech and voice disorders. That often shows up first in volume of the voice, meaning that people may speak more softly — even if they don’t realize it.
- Masked Face. The muscles in the face are also affected by Parkinson’s, as they experience the same gradual stiffening as in the rest of the body. People with Parkinson’s will have less facial mimicry, and less spontaneous smiling.
- Stiffness and Gait Problems. Stiffness from Parkinson’s can be mistaken for arthritis, but it will appear in the muscles, not the joints. Gait problems can first appear in someone who has trouble keeping up with their peers on a walk or someone who’s having trouble with regular activities like getting in and out of a car — again, something that might be attributed to old age. But both are signs of a potential Parkinson’s diagnosis.
- Resting Tremors. Shaking in the hand, foot, or leg is often the first obvious visual sign for Parkinson’s. By the time Parkinson’s affects muscles in this way, most patients have already been experiencing early signals like sleep, smell and digestion problems — sometimes for years.
Reference: AARP (May 5, 2022)“8 Early Warning Signs of Parkinson’s Disease”
Suggested Key Terms: Parkinson’s Disease, COVID-19 (coronavirus), Senior Health