Parkinson’s Disease or Simply Signs of Aging? How to Know the Difference

Parkinson’s Disease or Simply Signs of Aging? How to Know the Difference

Parkinson’s disease is a fairly common brain disorder among seniors. It causes shaking and stiffness and affects balance and coordination. In some sufferers, it also causes dementia. On average, those with Parkinson’s are diagnosed around age 60, although the risk increases with age. Every year, about 60,000 people are diagnosed with the condition in the United States. There’s a good chance that many more actually suffer from the disease, however. According to the National Institutes of Health, this is because it’s easy to confuse early symptoms of the disease with things that happen normally during the aging process.

Early Symptoms

Knowing how to spot the early symptoms of Parkinson’s can help. If you notice any of these signs in your loved one, see a doctor. According to the National Parkinson Foundation, signs to watch for include:

  • Tremors: Tremors in the hands, arms, feet, mouth, and chin are the most widely recognized symptom of Parkinson’s disease. While unsteadiness is not unusual in seniors, Parkinson’s tremors typically occur when the limb is resting.
  • Rigidity: Muscle stiffness in the limbs, back, and neck is common in those with Parkinson’s. Of course, arthritis or injury can cause similar symptoms.
  • Lack of Balance: Poor coordination and being unsteady on their feet is an issue for many seniors. This is doubly true for those with Parkinson’s and can lead to falls.
  • Trouble Sleeping: An occasional sleepless night is to be expected, but consistent trouble sleeping may be related to sudden movements during sleep caused by Parkinson’s.
  • Blank Stare: If your senior seems to have a blank stare or rarely blinks, it could be cause for concern. Some medications can cause similar symptoms, but it’s still a good idea to see a doctor.

Progression of the Disease

While an early diagnosis can greatly improve quality of life, the disease is progressive. The symptoms can continue to worsen as your senior ages. This may take an emotional toll on both you and your loved one. You’ll both be asked to continually adapt to the changes in health, abilities, and independence. Those with Parkinson’s slowly lose their mobility, ability to provide self-care and, in some cases, mental capacity.

While dementia is rarely an early sign of Parkinson’s, it is common in sufferers as they age. In fact, one study found it was present in more than 65 percent of seniors age 85 and older with the disease, according to the Rhode Island Medical Journal. While there are a number of causes of dementia in the elderly, the combination of motor issues associated with Parkinson’s and dementia can lead to decreased independence and possibly earlier death.

Knowing the difference between Parkinson’s symptoms and the normal signs of aging could be life-changing for you and your loved one. Getting an early diagnosis and treatment can slow the progression of symptoms, and there are a number of tools that can make living with the disorder easier. These include assistive technology and medical alert devices. With these resources, your senior can enjoy a better quality of life and be able to live independently for longer.

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