April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. Parkinson’s is a progressive nervous system disorder that greatly affects movement. It occurs when the brain cells that make the neurotransmitter dopamine stop working or die off. Symptoms often start with a small tremor, such as in the finger of one hand, and progress to affect the entire body.
The early signs of Parkinson’s include the following:
• Resting tremor: A rhythmic, involuntary shaking that often starts in one area of the body, typically a finger, and will tremor at rest
• Slowed movement: A slowing down of movement, known as bradykinesia, that occurs over time, making simple tasks, such as getting out of a chair and walking at normal speed, difficult
• Rigid muscles: Stiffness and rigidity in muscles that is painful and limits range of motion
• Impaired posture and balance: A stooped posture, rounded shoulders, or balance problems
• Loss of automatic movements: Decreased ability to perform movements that occur unconsciously, such as blinking or smiling
• Changes in speech: Slurred speech, as well as a softer volume, quicker cadence, and a hesitation before speaking
• Changes in writing: A difficulty in handwriting that causes smaller than usual letters and crowded words to form
• Loss of smell: Hyposmia, a condition that affects the ability to smell
• Trouble sleeping: A thrashing about during sleep
• Constipation: Painful or difficult bowel movements
Other signs include changes in vision, low blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, urine problems, and excessive perspiration.
Along with physical changes, a Parkinson’s sufferer may experience fluctuations in mood and thinking, such as the following:
• Memory and cognitive problems
• Mood disturbances
Although Parkinson’s symptoms typically appear in older people, about 10 to 20 percent of those with Parkinson’s experience symptoms before they turn 50.
The Personal Side of Parkinson’s
The Herrick Community Health Care Library has a host of resources on Parkinson’s Disease that are available for checkout, including Parkinson’s Disease: A Complete Guide for Patients and Families (2015) by William J. Weiner and Managing PD Mid-Stride (2018) by Cindy Zadikoff.
Following is a list of books and videos that offer a personal side to Parkinson’s:
• Always Looking Up (2009) and Lucky Man (2002) by Michael J. Fox—These memoirs by actor Fox, a steadfast advocate of Parkinson’s research and the founder of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, provide a firsthand, optimistic look into the disease and how it’s shaped his world.
• Capturing Grace (2014)—This award-winning documentary follows two dancers from Brooklyn’s famed Mark Morris Dance Group as they lead a workshop to teach dance and movement to Parkinson’s patients, who can benefit from rhythmic activity. (Also available on Amazon Prime and Tubi streaming services.)
• Just Around the Corner (2012)—This film explores founder Bob Benjamin’s Light of Day Foundation, which hosts a series of annual concerts to raise money and awareness for Parkinson’s. (Available on Amazon Prime and Tubi.)
• Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (2019)—This documentary chronicles the career of singer Ronstadt, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s around 2000, but continued to perform until 2009, not revealing her diagnosis until several years later.
Sources: Mayo Clinic, “Parkinson’s Disease,” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20376055; The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, https://www.michaeljfox.org/symptoms; Parkinson’s Foundation, “10 Early Signs of Parkinson’s Disease,” https://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/10-early-warning-signs.
Infographic courtesy The Michael J. Fox Foundation.