Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s can be a truly life-altering event, so much so that many put off being diagnosed, even if they experience a clear symptom of the disease – such as a tremor.
However, early treatment is the best for Parkinson’s. The earlier you catch the disease, the more time you can buy. While there is no cure for this horrible illness, there are certain steps that you can take to slow down the progression of the illness – including medication.
However, knowing the early warning signs is key to making sure that you get an early diagnosis. So here are 10 often-missed warning signs that can help you identify if you or someone you love may be in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
1. Loss of smell
The loss of the sense of smell is probably one the least-known, but earliest warning signs of Parkinson’s disease developing. Many recent studies have put weight behind the idea that olfactory dysfunction is a very early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease. Some researchers in the field have considered running tests for a lack of smell as a screening for Parkinson’s, as this change is very often linked to the development.
The development of tremors are perhaps one of the most instantly recognizable signs of Parkinson’s disease. This can commonly include a slight twitching of either the fingers or hands, and even in the feet. Whilst in the very early stages of Parkinson’s, only the person suffering will likely notice the tremors. However, as the condition progresses over time, the tremors will worsen and become noticeable to others
3. Trouble sleeping
Many of us will have nights where we have trouble sleeping from time to time. However, when you have Parkinson’s disease, a restless night’s sleep can become something else entirely.
One of the earliest warning signs of Parkinson’s is rapid eye-movement behavior disorder (RBD). Research published in Neurology showed that over 50 percent of people who suffer with RBD will develop Parkinson’s disease or dementia. Those who are suffering with RBD essentially act out their dreams while they are in the deepest stage of sleep. This means that they can often shout, kick or grind their teeth. Sometimes they may even attack anyone who is sleeping nearby.
4. Posture changes
Problems with posture is another large warning sign of Parkinson’s developing. Those who have a posture that can be described as either stooped, slouching or leaning may be suffering in the early stages of Parkinson’s. This is due to the loss of coordination within the body, as well as a loss of balance.
These changes in posture will be very subtle, and they do not happen all at once. Posture will change in small ways at first, and will continue to get worse as the Parkinson’s develops. Towards the later stages, people with Parkinson’s will not be able to straighten their backs.
As you get older, you will encounter a little stiffness and go a little slower. This is part of growing older. However, Parkinson’s – which develops in later life – can also cause you to become stiffer and slower than normal. The difference between stiffness caused by old age and stiffness caused by Parkinson’s is that stiffness caused by aging will dissipate as you go through your day.
Stiffness and slowness are both early warning signs of Parkinson’s, but it is important to distinguish between natural stiffness due to old age and that caused by Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s causes stiffness by impairing the neurons that control movement, meaning that your limbs become stiffer and more limited.
6. Changes to their voice and speech
Parkinson’s affects the nerves, particularly those in the brain. As the brain is affected by Parkinson’s, the signals and muscles that control speech become affected too. This can cause changes in a person’s voice, in many cases making the voice softer and more monotone, or with little to no inflection. This can be subtler at the earlier stage of Parkinson’s, but still noticeable.
In some cases, the person may start to slur their words. This is due to the facial muscles stiffening as Parkinson’s develops, making it harder to enunciate properly.
Often, these changes to voice and speech will be the first sign that other people notice – long before the person suffering with Parkinson’s does. A change to voice and speech patterns is so characteristic of Parkinson’s that researchers are working on a technique to analyse voices as part of a screening and diagnostic tool.
Constipation is one of the more overlooked symptoms of Parkinson’s. There are many different causes of constipation, so it often gets attributed to a different cause, rather than the early stages of Parkinson’s. However, Parkinson’s can actually affect the bowels.
Parkinson’s affects the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for regulating the smooth muscles that line the bowels and bladder. As a result, the smooth muscles can become less responsive and efficient, which slows down the entire digestive process.
As a result of this, many who experience Parkinson’s experience constipation, but also a feeling of fullness. Those suffering with Parkinson’s tend not to eat a lot, as their bowel problems mean they experience fullness very quickly and it can last for a long time.
8. Lack of facial expressions
One of the most common early warning signs of Parkinson’s disease is the loss of movement in the face. Parkinson’s can cause it to become difficult to move and control the muscles in the face. Muscles become stiff and slow, which results in a very characteristic lack of expression. People with Parkinson’s are often accused of having a ‘blank stare’.
During the early stages, the changes to the face are very subtle and you may not notice them. However, the easiest way to spot them is during either smiling or frowning. A person in the early stages of Parkinson’s may be slower to smile or frown than someone without.
9. Repeated neck pain
Repeated and persistent neck pain is a warning sign that is particularly common in women who are in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Neck pain caused by Parkinson’s differs from common neck pain in that is continuous for a long time, unlike a pulled muscle or cramp.
In certain cases, this neck pain will present as numbness and tingling, rather than pain. It can also present as aching or discomfort, reaching from the shoulders down to the arms.
10. Mood changes
Changes to mood can be one of the more subtle changes to affect people with Parkinson’s. Experts aren’t exactly sure why mood changes with the development, but it has been suggested that the changes may be linked to dopamine changes.
Mood changes that are associated with Parkinson’s can include anxiety in new situations, social withdrawal and depression. In some cases, this sudden onset of depression at such a late age can be the first sign to family and close friends that Parkinson’s is developing – however it is rarely attributed to Parkinson’s.
There are many early warning signs for Parkinson’s, and noticing them early is key to treating it correctly and in the best possible way.
If you or someone you know has developed any of the early warning symptoms listed above, you should consult your GP as quickly as possible. Your GP will be able to advise you on the best course of action.