A Parkinson's disease diagnosis is a troubling discovery for patients and their families. Many understand Parkinson's as leading to unmanageable motor function deficiencies, creating a serious upheaval in daily life. But although it can be debilitating for many sufferers, this disease can affect patients in many different ways.
There are common symptoms and stages of Parkinson's disease, but patients may feel varying levels of intensity or experience different progressions of ailments. With the uncertainty surrounding Parkinson's, physicians will take a proactive approach to manage symptoms.
Your doctor will help you develop a treatment plan and refer you to specialists to help you maintain your quality of life.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, you may have questions about how it develops and what it could mean for the future. This article will explain the signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease and how it progresses.
Tremor, rigidity, slowness of movement, difficulty walking
Dementia, depression, anxiety
Age over 60
Pesticide exposure, head injuries
Based on symptoms
Dementia with Lewy bodies, progressive supranuclear palsy, essential tremor, antipsychotic use
L-DOPA, dopamine agonists
Life expectancy about 7–15 years
6.2 million (2015)
What Causes Parkinson's Disease?
Over 100,000 Canadians live with Parkinson's disease, a number that is expected to increase over the next several years. It's more common to be diagnosed after age 60, but a low percentage of individuals will have symptoms before they turn 50 years old.
Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder where neurons in the brain begin to deteriorate and die. Many of the affected cells are responsible for producing the neurotransmitter dopamine. As dopamine levels fall, typical symptoms of Parkinson's disease will start to show up.
Dopamine is well-known for its influence on our mood. This chemical messenger supplies pleasurable feelings, a stimulant for the reward centers in our brain. This is considered its primary function, but dopamine also performs several other duties.
The normal transmission of dopamine is essential for our body's mental and motor functions. It impacts your awareness, concentration, blood flow, coordination, and motor control. As a major contributor to your memory, attention, and decision-making, low dopamine levels indicate a link between Parkinson's disease and dementia.
The exact Parkinson's disease causes remain a mystery, but we have made progress in identifying risk factors for the condition.
As we mentioned, age is the main risk factor for Parkinson's, with the probability of the disease increasing every year after age 60. It's so rare for Parkinson's to show up before then, a roughly 1 in 20 chance for those who get it, that a diagnosis before you turn 60 is called "early-onset".
Scientists have had difficulty figuring out who is prone to developing Parkinson's disease, but they believe it's linked to genetics and environmental hazards.
If you have a parent or sibling with Parkinson's disease, you are more likely to develop it as well. The family link only accounts for about 25% of Parkinson's cases. Several studies have revealed specific genes that are connected to the illness.
Studies have shown links to toxins and other environmental and occupational factors, which could explain why men are more likely to develop Parkinson's than women. However, there have been other studies that have shown little or no relationship between environmental hazards and the disease.
Five Stages of Parkinson's Disease
A doctor will review your medical history and perform a brain scan and blood tests to find the cause of your symptoms. There is no standard test to diagnose Parkinson's, but doctors can make the diagnosis if other illnesses have been ruled out.
The most notable symptoms doctors use to diagnose Parkinson's disease involve movement. You generally lose control and range of motion in three ways, the "cardinal" motor symptoms:
Rigidity: Muscle stiffness
Bradykinesia: Slowness of movement
Resting tremors: Involuntary shaking while at rest, usually in your hand or limb
These symptoms can range from severe to non-existent, but the slowdown in movement will occur for every individual. Along with these motor symptoms, there are secondary symptoms including:
Low blood pressure
Constipation and bladder control issues
Apathy and fatigue
Concentration and memory problems
Decreased sex drive
Loss of smell
Parkinson's disease gets worse over time, especially without proper treatment. The progression through the stages is unique for every individual, but it does follow a general pattern. The change from one stage to the next is slow, with each one taking 1-3 years to progress.
The mild stage of Parkinson's may not have a huge impact on everyday life, but symptoms are noticeable. Minor tremors may emerge along with changes in walking. Your arms may not swing, and your legs might start to feel heavy and stiff.
Symptoms show up on one side of your body in stage one. Changes in facial movement and posture also commonly occur.
Daily tasks become more difficult as the symptoms get more severe. The whole body is affected by worsening tremors and stiffness. Walking becomes slower and more difficult due to stiffness and trouble balancing.
Balance and slowness become more intense, and you will be more susceptible to falls. Speech volume is harder to control, and you may have trouble eating and swallowing. Simple activities like bathing or getting dressed become much more difficult, and it gets harder to stay fully independent.
Stiffness, tremors, and slowness have a massive impact on daily activities. Some small tasks can be done alone, but many normal movements require assistance. At this stage, you will be unable to live alone.
Some individuals do not reach this stage and continue to stay independent for the rest of their lives. Those that do reach this stage may require home care for the disease or associated dementia.
In the most advanced stage, the stiffness in your legs becomes so intense that you will be limited to a wheelchair or bed. You will need constant in-home care for help with eating, bathing, dressing, and most chores. Many serious secondary symptoms like hallucinations show up at this stage.
What Is the Life Expectancy for Parkinson's Disease?
The slow progression of Parkinson's can take 10-15 years before you reach the final stages. You may also go your whole life with only minor symptoms in the first few stages.
There is no real difference between the life expectancy of a person with Parkinson's disease and a person without it. With medication and adjustment, people in stages 1-3 can lead a full life. Because it is not guaranteed to shorten your life, Parkinson's disease is considered a critical illness.
In later stages, your chances of dying can increase. This is more due to the dangers of Parkinson's symptoms and not the disease itself. For example, you are more likely to choke when you have trouble swallowing, and stiffer movements make you more likely to fall down.
What Can Worsen Parkinson's Disease?
Doctors manage Parkinson's disease with medications and lifestyle changes. They may provide drugs to increase dopamine levels, reduce non-motor symptoms, and affect other nerve cells. These can help with tremors and stiffness and slow the progression of the disease.
The most common medication is Levodopa, which increases the dopamine supply in the brain. This is often used along with other inhibitors that prevent your body from breaking down dopamine.
Stress and anxiety are symptoms of Parkinson's disease, and they may also cause a worsening condition. Tremors will be affected the most, and medications may start to have a reduced effect. Your doctor may prescribe additional medicines to manage your stress along with your normal medication.
Sudden medication changes can also cause symptoms to get worse. Some people may think Levodopa stopped working, for example, and discontinue it. It needs to be taken consistently to prevent your body from having to adjust.
Along with stress, other secondary symptoms like lack of sleep can cause a worsening condition. Urinary tract infections are more common in Parkinson's patients, even if they don't have any related bladder problems. Recent surgeries or infections can also cause symptoms to get worse during the recovery period.
Is There A Cure for Parkinson's Disease?
There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but doctors can prescribe medications and create a lifestyle plan with you to get the most out of life despite the condition.
With a healthy diet, regular exercise, and medicine, you can reduce your symptoms and regain much of your independence. The science is always getting better as well, with new treatments coming into play to further improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson's.
Parkinson's Disease and Insurance
Fortunately, Parkinson's disease can be managed. This is good news for your everyday life, but also for your investments.
You may be worried that a diagnosis will limit your ability to get health or life insurance. As the healthcare options continue to improve, so do the insurance options, even at the later stages of Parkinson's disease.
If you are interested in getting insurance with Parkinson's disease, we can help you navigate your options to find coverage that fits your needs, goals, and budget. Contact Insurdinary for more information on adding insurance, or use our online quote finder to get started today!