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Personal Reflections...
The Disease

What is Parkinson's Disease:

Parkinson's disease, a progressive and degenerative neurological disorder, causes loss of control over body movements.  The cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown, but it is known that levels of dopamine lead to the motor control symptoms associated with Parkinson's. At this time, there is no cure. With Parkinson's, people can experience extreme swings in movement control - from periods of virtually normal motor function to episodes of complete immobility - in the span of a few hours.


What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's disease has classic signs, symptoms and many common threads, but each case of Parkinson's is very unique, including how the disease progresses and/or how well someone responds to the medication. Due to these variations, people with Parkinson's should never compare themselves with others who have Parkinson's. Here are some of the more common symptoms associated with the disease:

  • Tremor. In about 70 percent of people with PD, this is the earliest symptom to appear. It is a tremor that occurs in a limb when it is at rest. The tremor starts in one arm or leg on one side of the body. It can progress to include the other side of the body, but it usually remains more pronounced on one side. My tremor is still only on my right side.
  • Slowness of movement (bradykinesia). Fine movements become clumsy and it is often hard to begin a movement. Rising up from a chair can be very difficult. There may also be an abrupt stopping of ongoing movement such as when turning corners or going through doorways. This symptom is the most disabling, but it responds well to treatment.
  • Rigidity. Extreme stiffness in the muscles occurs when they are at rest and joints may sometimes feel locked. The lack of mobility often causes muscle fatigue and ache. Rigidity usually responds well to treatment.
  • Dystonia. The third most common movement disorder after Parkinson's and Tremor, Dystonia is a neurological disorder that causes abnormal postures or muscles in the body to pull or spasms, especially in the foot, toes or ankle which may persist for minutes or hours. Dystonia can be a result of the wearing off of medication or, as in my case, in can preceed or accompany the Parkinson's.
  • Impaired balance.The body’s center of gravity can become impaired in people with PD who can be at risk for falls.
  • A changed facial expression (hypomimia) Because the facial muscles that normally create expression don't move as well, people with PD sometimes appear to look uninterested or sad when they are not.  I HATE this symptom.
  • Small, cramped handwriting (micrographia). Writing may be normal size for the first few words and then will trail off and get smaller. This was another early symptom for me, when the bank refused two of my checks because they did not recognize my signature a year before I even received my diagnosis.
  • Fatigue. Everyday tasks take longer to complete when one has PD. It is hard to do two things at once. Sleep may also be disturbed and insomnia is common.
  • Pain. Painful stiffness is a common early feature of PD. Painful cramps can also be a result of too much medication or even too little. I experience a great deal of pain in my right foot because of the dystonia.
  • A soft voice (hypophonia) People with PD may have difficulty being heard, particularly on the phone. In addition, the rhythm of the voice can be affected, and words may be spoken in a monotone, but I think years of professional vocal training help keep my voice strong despite Parkinson’s.
  • Depression. Research indicates that up to 50 percent of patients with PD can experience a period of depression during their illness and many studies show that many people with Parkinson’s experience depression before the initial tremor, sometimes even up to 15 years.  Whether or not it is related to Parkinson’s is unknown, but ironically I was treated for depression for years prior to my diagnosis.
  • Slowness in thought process. Intellectually, people with PD usually remain normal. But because speech and everyday tasks take longer to execute, it may appear that they lack comprehension or understanding - when actually they know exactly what they want to do but are unable to process their thoughts or actions in a timely manner.
  • Loss Of Smell  (anosmia). Most people with idiopathic Parkinson's can not smell. Some patients whose primary symptom has been tremor can still smell. My nose has always been very sensitive and I think I'm still smelling things correctly.