Parkinson’s Disease – the Thief of Time and Ability

When most people hear the term “Parkinson’s Disease”, they immediately picture someone with tremors of the hands and head. They don’t associate it with the myriad other difficulties that may accompany this disease, depending on the person cursed with it.

Parkinson’s Disease is a thief of time and ability. It may not be noticed at first. Early symptoms may be as innocuous as the person standing with their arms down, but palms facing forward. This is actually an early symptom. They may appear vague, or confused. Many people make the mistake of thinking that there is a hearing problem, because the person afflicted may not answer immediately when spoken to, or may have a vague look on their face. They may ask the speaker to repeat themselves, not because they didn’t hear, but because it has taken them longer to process what was said. These are all early symptoms of the disease.

As the disease progresses, other symptoms may appear, without ever experiencing the tremors of hand and head.

Walking may be affected. Parkinson’s may manifest itself in a gait where the person leans forward somewhat, and doesn’t swing their arms as is the norm. Try walking without swinging your arms; it definitely affects your ability to walk. Balance increasingly becomes a problem.

Another oddity of this disease is when an afflicted person approaches or comes to a doorway, crack in the pavement, curb, or lines on a floor. For some reason the brain signals “STOP”, and the person stops mid-stride and frequently isn’t able to proceed without a “jumpstart” from someone. A gentle pull or push will re-start the walking process.

Muscle rigidity is also a troublesome symptom. The muscles in the arms, neck, back, and torso become tense and almost rigid. The patient feels that they can’t relax and they become even tenser, exacerbating the symptom.

One extremely annoying symptom is “restless legs” syndrome. This syndrome is not restricted to Parkinson’s Disease, and may occur alone; with no Parkinson’s involved at all.

Restless legs syndrome manifests itself with unpleasant sensations in the legs, described as “bugs crawling”, or electrical sensations. The person experiencing this feels the need to move their legs constantly to try and relieve the sensations. It may cause extreme tension, anxiety, and loss of the ability to concentrate on tasks. (This is not only a Parkinson’s symptom though.) For more information, see additional resources at the end of this article.

This article is by no means a comprehensive listing of symptoms; however it does describe symptoms that many people are unaware of. There are many organizations that offer detailed information regarding this disease. Please research, and as always, check with your doctor before trying any new remedies, be they medicinal or holistic.

As a previous caregiver of a Parkinson’s patient, I became aware that the following activities helped to alleviate some of these symptoms and offered a degree of comfort to the patient.

� Restless legs are helped by offering a gentle massage of the feet and lower legs. Use a good lotion to minimize skin irritation.
� For muscle rigidity, a gentle massage of the neck and upper shoulder area helps to relax all the muscles. Again, use a good lotion so as not to irritate the skin. If the patient is able to navigate the bath, a good warm soak with Epsom Salts also helps ease the rigidity. However this is not a good idea if the patient is advanced in the disease, and could injure themselves getting in and out of the bath.
� When balance and walking become a hazard, rearrange the furniture a bit so that sturdy pieces are available to hang onto when navigating the house. For outside, a sturdy walking stick, with a rubber base, becomes an essential accessory. Farther down the road a good walker is suggested. Eventually bathroom and bedroom accessories are very helpful, with handles to aid sitting and standing.
� Exercise is very important! Keep those muscles strong, which will enable the patient to stay mobile.
âÂ?¢ Be cognizant of the patient’s ability to swallow pills and food easily. Frequently, as the disease progresses, it becomes more difficult to swallow. Make sure that food is easily swallowed, and you may need to crush (check with pharmacist to ensure medication can be taken crushed without altering it’s absorption ability) medication and offer it to the patient in a small glass of juice. It is much easier for a patient to use a straw when drinking liquids. If the patient does have trouble swallowing, and must be in the hospital, ensure that ALL hospital personnel know that they must crush medicine, or offer a liquid alternative for medication. If you must, post a large, bold printed sign on the wall above the patient’s bed. Remember, you can make a difference in a hospital stay by being firm and insistent.
âÂ?¢ Don’t forget humor. Although a debilitating and depressing disease, trying to find humor in some of the challenges, as well as just trying to enjoy life regardless of the disease: this is essential. As a caregiver, remember to not only focus on the treatment and caring of the disease, but in the treatment and caring of the individual, the person, and the soul of the patient. They still want to enjoy life, and they don’t want every conversation and activity to revolve around the disease.

One thing to keep in mind. Many doctors don’t believe that massage, vitamins, and exercise can help in these matters. You don’t necessarily want to ask your doctor if it will help, but ask your doctor if it will hurt to try new things. If it won’t hurt, and you have researched and want to try it, what is there to lose? There may be much to gain.

My father has Parkinson’s Disease, and we have found that all of the things listed above helped tremendously. As stated, this is by no means an all inclusive list of symptoms and helpful strategies. Please be informed and proactive. It will make a huge difference in the life of the patient, as well as the caregiver.

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