Parkinson’s: early warning signs

With around 700,000 people in Australia living with Parkinson’s, either having the disease itself, caring for someone with Parkinson’s, or knowing someone affected, you’d think that there would be more awareness of the condition. Yet, apart from the obviously visible symptoms, such as shakes and tremors, not many people would recognise the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

It’s probably not surprising, because it can be difficult to tell if you have the disease.

However, there are 10 symptoms which can indicate that you may have Parkinson’s. Having one or two of these symptoms shouldn’t be alarming, but if you have a few of them, it may be time to visit your GP or health professional.

1. Tremors and shakes
The most commonly noticed symptom of Parkinson’s is shaking or trembling. This may come in the form of a tremor in your finger, hand, thumb, lip or chin. It may also be that your leg shakes when you sit and relax.

2. Dizziness or fainting
If you’ve been having dizziness when you stand up, or if you sometimes feel like fainting, you should see your doctor. It could be a sign of low-blood pressure or something worse. There’s even a theory that dizziness can lead to dementia.

3. Lost sense of smell
Do you have trouble smelling certain foods, such as banana or liquorice? Has anyone said your perfume or aftershave is far too strong? If so, you may need to see your GP.

4. Increased stiffness when moving or walking
Stiffness may begin in your hip or shoulder, or you may notice that you don’t swing your arms when you walk, or that you feel as if you’re walking with cement shoes on, but once these signs progress to the point where you’re finding it difficult to walk or move at all, you should probably get checked out. It may just be that you’re stiff, but it could also be a precursor to Parkinson’s.

5. Trouble sleeping
Are you particularly ‘active’ during your sleep time? Flailing about, kicking or punching when you are asleep, or even falling out of bed are all early warning signs of Parkinson’s. You may not notice them, but it may pay for you to be aware if your partner is telling you about such night-time activities.

6. Constipation
Having trouble moving your bowels can also be a sign of Parkinson’s, but this is one where you shouldn’t panic if it’s a sole symptom. There are plenty of things that cause constipation.

7. Speaking quietly
Do people have trouble hearing what you’re saying? Is your voice low, soft or do you often have people telling you that you sound as if you have a sore throat? A change in your voice can be a sign of Parkinson’s, or it could just be a sore throat or a virus.

8. You look as if you had botox
Has your face lost its elasticity or do you always look as if you’re in a sombre mood? A serious-looking face with a blank stare is known as masking – and it could also be a sign of Parkinson’s.

9. Small handwriting
If your handwriting is much smaller than it was in the past; if your letters are more bunched together or the way you write words has changed drastically, this could be a sign of Parkinson’s.

10. Hunching or slouching
Do you find yourself hunched over when you walk? Do you slouch in your chair more so than before? Do you feel as if you stoop when you stand? All of these could be symptoms of Parkinson’s.

So, what if you do have Parkinson’s?
Life goes on, even after a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. You may need to create a life strategy with your doctor, and you’ll be seeing a neurologist for assistance and check-ups. Your occupational therapist, speech therapist and physical therapist will help you through the day-to-day, and a social worker can help you manage the ongoing psychological effects in your life.

For more information about Parkinson’s disease, please visit parkinsons.org.au

Do you, or does anyone you know, have Parkinson’s? How do you/they manage? Would you mind sharing any tips or advice with our members?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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