Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that effects many people as they age. Although it is most common in people over 50, it can begin to manifest itself earlier. The exact mechanism of Parkinson’s is not precisely understood; we do know, however, that it involves deterioration in parts of the brain that govern movement, specifically the death of brain cells that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter essential to movement. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive degenerative disorder, meaning that it gets worse over time. An increase in the number and severity of symptoms may happen slowly, or at a more rapid pace.
Primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may appear in clusters, or one at a time. One of the most characteristic, and often earliest, manifestations of Parkinson’s disease is tremor and shaking, especially in the limbs, hands, and face. Stiffness and rigidity in the torso and limbs is also typical for people suffering from Parkinson’s. Walking often becomes difficult for people with Parkinson’s, as other primary symptoms of the disorder include poor balance, impaired coordination, and a shuffling gait in place of a normal walking stride. Bradykinesia (slowness of movement) as well as akinesia (inability to move) are also primary symptoms, making locomotion challenging. People with Parkinson’s often exhibit a stooped posture, experience trouble with chewing and swallowing, and have foot pain accompanied by involuntary curling of the toes.
If you suspect that someone you care about has Parkinson’s, it’s important to stay alert to these primary symptoms. Although they may not be seem to be severe in the early stages, Parkinson’s symptoms can none the less progress rapidly. Some Parkinson’s symptoms severely impact quality of life: tremors and shaking, along with poor coordination, can make it hard to perform everyday tasks like dressing, household chores, and self-care. Others can be life-threatening: difficulty chewing and swallowing can increase the risk of malnutrition and choking, while impaired balance and a shuffling gait make serious falls and injuries more likely.