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Parkinson’s Disease: Stages, Symptoms, & Treatment
In honor of Parkinson’s Awareness Month, we’ve shared the stages of Parkinson’s and how it progresses, as well as the symptoms and treatment options.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s affects the brain’s dopamine-producing neurons. With this disease, the nerve cells begin to break down or die. When an individual’s dopamine levels start to decrease, it causes an imbalance or abnormal brain activity.4
The exact cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, but it is believed that genes and environmental factors play a role in individuals who develop it. Having a family member that has Parkinson’s can also increase an individual’s chances of being diagnosed with the disease.
Some gene variations are linked to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. Scientists have also found certain genetic mutations that can cause Parkinson’s disease, although it’s rare.5
Stages of Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s diseases can affect the quality of life for those who have it. Although in the beginning stages, people may still have a sense of independence, dementia or physical disability is common as it progresses.7
During this first stage, people tend to have mild symptoms that might not even be noticeable. Some symptoms to be on the lookout for include tremors or other movement symptoms occurring on one side of the body. Changes in posture, walking, or facial expressions may also be present.
Stage two is when individuals begin to see symptoms progressing. Tremors typically start to worsen during this stage, and they can occur on both sides of the body. This stage may make daily activities harder.
This is considered the “mid-stage” for Parkinson’s. Loss of balance and slow movements are indicators of stage three. Individuals can still be independent during this stage, but daily activities may be harder and falls are more common.8
Stage four is accompanied by severe symptoms. Individuals need help with standing and walking, and should not be living alone.
Stage five is the most advanced stage of Parkinson’s. In this stage, a person’s legs may be too stiff to stand, and many people require a wheelchair or are bedridden.
Care is needed for all activities during this stage. Individuals in stage 5 may even experience other symptoms, such as hallucinations.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are typically separated into different categories: motor symptoms and non-motor symptoms.7
Individuals with Parkinson’s disease may not experience all symptoms associated with the disease. There’s no prediction as to how fast the symptoms will progress or worsen.
Primary Motor Symptoms
There are a few different primary motor symptoms that come with Parkinson’s:
- Resting tremor. This is when one part of the body shakes when it’s not being used. For example, a hand or foot may shake when you’re not using it or are at rest.
- Freezing of gait. This occurs when someone attempts to take a step forward, but feels as if they are stuck and cannot move.
- “Mask” face. Facial expressions may look flat as facial muscles lose some of their movement.9
Secondary Motor Symptoms
Some of the secondary motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s include:
- Changes in speech
- Stooped posture
- Difficulty with hand and finger movements, such as writing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Restless movement, such as being fidgety10
Non-motor symptoms are not always what people would associate with being a sign of Parkinson’s, as they are present alongside many other health conditions.11 Some common non-motor symptoms that accompany this disease include:
- Weakened sense of smell or taste
- Sleep disorders
- Mood disorders
- Gastrointestinal problems such as nausea or loss of appetite
Early Signs of Parkinson’s Disease
- Tremor. Have you noticed a shake in a finger or the hand when it’s at rest?
- Small handwriting. Has there been a change in handwriting? If someone’s writing gets smaller, it could be a sign of Parkinson’s. This is called micrographia.13
- Loss of smell. Has the sense of smell declined? Is there difficulty smelling foods such as bananas?
- Trouble sleeping. Do you notice sudden movements during sleep or have difficulty sleeping at night?
- Trouble moving. Is there a stiff feeling in the legs and arms?
If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms, contact a medical professional to seek help and receive a proper diagnosis.
Treatment for Parkinson’s
There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, there are numerous treatment options available depending on the individual, symptoms, and doctor’s recommendations.
Some of the treatment options for those with Parkinson’s disease include:
- Lifestyle modifications. This could look like getting more rest or exercise. Exercise helps those with Parkinson’s maintain balance and mobility.
- Medication. Medication will depend on the person, symptoms, and other existing health issues. Medication can help manage the symptoms, but cannot reverse them.
- Rehabilitation. Physical and occupational therapy are common forms of treatment for those with Parkinson’s. Moving around, staying active, and performing daily activities on their own are some of the most important goals of those with this disease.
- Surgery. The two most common procedures for those with Parkinson’s are a deep brain stimulation (DBS) or a surgery to insert a tube into the small intestine that delivers levodopa, a medication for Parkinson’s.14
Take the time to learn more about Parkinson’s disease and help raise awareness during this month. Being aware of the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can help you and your older loved ones seek diagnosis and treatment if needed.
Our therapy teams at all communities work with individuals with various progressive diseases. To learn more about Saber Healthcare and what we do, click here.
Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- “Statistics.” Parkinson’s Foundation, parkinson.org. Accessed March 23rd, 2022. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Statistics.
- “How Common Is Parkinson’s Disease?” Health Union, LLC, parkinsonsdisease.net. September 19th, 2019. Accessed March 23rd, 2022. https://parkinsonsdisease.net/basics/statistics.
- “Parkinson’s Disease.” Cleveland Clinic, clevelandclinic.org. May 1st, 2020. Accessed March 23rd, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8525-parkinsons-disease-an-overview.
- “What Is Parkinson’s?” Parkinson’s Foundation, parkinson.org. Accessed March 23rd, 2022. https://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/what-is-parkinsons.
- “Parkinson’s disease.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education & Research, Mayo Clinic. Accessed March 24th, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20376055.
- “Stages of Parkinson’s.” Parkinson’s Foundation, parkinson.org. Accessed March 23rd, 2022. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/What-is-Parkinsons/Stages-of-Parkinsons.
- Moore, William. “How Parkinson’s Disease Progresses.” WebMD, webmd.com. September 4th, 2021. Accessed March 23rd, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/parkinsons-disease/guide/parkinsons-disease-progression.
- “The 5 Stages of Parkinson’s Disease.” Banner Health, bannerhealth.com. August 9th, 2020. Accessed March 24th, 2022. https://www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/teach-me/the-5-stages-of-parkinsons-disease.
- “Parkinson’s Symptoms.” The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System, hopkinsmedicine.org. Accessed March 23rd, 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/parkinsons-disease/parkinsons-symptoms.
- “Secondary Motor Symptoms of Parkinson’s.” Health Union, LLC, parkinsonsdisease.net. February 28th, 2017. Accessed March 23rd, 2022. https://parkinsonsdisease.net/symptoms/secondary-motor.
- Pietrangelo, Ann. “What Are the Non-Motor Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?” Healthline Media, healthline.com. June 17th, 2020. Accessed March 23rd, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/parkinsons/non-motor-symptoms-of-parkinsons-disease.
- “10 Early Signs of Parkinson’s Disease.” Parkinson’s Foundation, parkinson.org. Accessed March 24th, 2022. https://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/10-early-warning-signs.
- “Small Handwriting.” Parkinson’s Foundation, parkinson.org. Accessed March 24th, 2022. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Symptoms/Non-Movement-Symptoms/Small-Handwriting.
- “Treatment.” Parkinson’s Foundation, parkinson.org. Accessed March 24th, 2022. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Treatment.