Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra area of the brain. Symptoms tend to develop slowly over several years. The person most identified with Parkinson’s is the actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s himself has been working tirelessly towards finding a cure for this relentless disease.
Early symptoms of Parkinson’s
Symptoms tend to start gradually, sometimes starting with a minor tremor in just one hand. Tremors are frequent, but the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement. In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, the facial expressions may change, where they show little or no emotion. Also, arms may not swing as much as they used to when walking.
The Five Stages of Parkinson’s
There are five stages of Parkinson’s Disease:
Slight tremors and clumsiness
In stage one, the symptoms of Parkinson’s are mild and only seen on one side of the body. The symptoms of Parkinson’s at this stage may be so mild that the person doesn’t seek medical attention. Symptoms may include tremors, such as in one hand, or one hand or leg may feel more clumsy than the other. Also, one side of the face may be affected, impacting expression. This stage can be challenging to diagnose, and a doctor may wait to see if the symptoms progress before making a formal diagnosis.
Facial and voice impairment
Stage two is still considered early and is characterized by symptoms on both sides of the body or at the midline without impairment to balance. This stage may develop months or years after stage one. Symptoms of Parkinsons in stage two may include the loss of facial expression on both sides of the face, speech abnormalities, decreased blinking, a soft or monotone voice, fading volume after starting to speak loudly, slurring speech, stiffness or rigidity of the muscles in the trunk that may result in neck or back pain, stooped posture, and an overall slowness in most daily activities. However, it is still able to perform tasks of daily living. Diagnosis may be easy at this stage if the patient has a tremor; yet, it can also be confused with merely advancing age.
Loss of balance and slower movements
Stage three is characterized by loss of balance and slowness of movement. Balance is compromised where the body cannot prevent itself from falling and sadly falls are common at this stage. All other symptoms of PD are also present at this stage, so diagnosis is easier to determine at this stage. Often doctors will diagnose impairments in reflexes at this stage by standing behind the patient and gently pulling the shoulders to see if the patient has trouble maintaining balance and so falling backward. At this stage, people with Parkinson’s are still considered independent in their daily living activities, such as dressing, hygiene, and eating.
Requires assistance, may need a walker
In stage four, Parkinson’s has progressed to a severely disabling disease. Patients at this stage may be able to walk and stand unassisted, but they will be struggling to walk. Many use a walker to help them. At this stage, the patient is unable to live independently and requires assistance with some activities of daily living.
Requires assistance, tendency to fall, may hallucinate
Stage five is the most advanced where there is an inability to rise from a chair or get out of bed without help; they may tend to fall when standing or turning. It’s not uncommon to freeze or stumble when walking. Around-the-clock assistance is required at this stage to reduce the risk of falling and help out with all daily activities. At stage five, hallucinations or delusions may be experienced.
While the symptoms worsen over time, it is worth noting that some patients with PD never reach stage five. Also, the length of time to progress through the different stages varies from individual to individual. Not all the symptoms may occur in one individual, either. For example, one person may have a tremor, but balance remains intact. Also, there are treatments available that can help at every stage of the disease. However, the earlier the diagnosis, and the earlier the stage at which the disease is diagnosed; this can lead to a more effective treatment to alleviate symptoms.
How is Parkinson’s diagnosed?
Doctors or neurologists complete several tests as outlined in the five stages of Parkinson’s. As we noted, it may not be able to diagnose a condition of Parkinson’s until the patient has reached Stage 3. Today there is no single way currently to diagnose Parkinson’s disease (PD). However, there are various symptoms and diagnostic tests used in combination. Making an accurate diagnosis of Parkinson’s — particularly in its early stages — is difficult, but a skilled practitioner can come to a reasoned conclusion that it is PD. To make a diagnosis, at least two of the following must be present:
- Shaking or tremors
- Slowness of movement
- Stiffness or rigidity of the arms, legs or trunk
- Having trouble with balance and possible falls
What causes Parkinson’s?
It is not known exactly what causes someone to develop Parkinson’s disease. However, several neurologists are now leaning towards a combination of factors, including:
- mineral deficiencies
- lifestyle (such as diet and chemicals)
How many people have Parkinson’s
In America, there are approximately 60,000 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease each year. Over 10 million people are living with Parkinson’s worldwide.
How old are people when they get Parkinson’s?
The majority of people who get Parkinson’s are over 65; however, people are being diagnosed with Parkinson’s’ much younger than this. One study found 18% of people with Parkinson’s were of working age.
What treatments are available for Parkinson’s?
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, symptoms can be treated with a combination of the following:
- medicines to increase or substitute for dopamine
- a healthy diet with regular exercise
- modifications to the physical environment at home and work
- brain surgery
Doctors will work with their patients to develop the best course of action
Believe it or not, all doctors are not created equal. That is why the most fundamental piece of advice for anyone facing a Parkinson’s diagnosis is to seek the care of a neurologist who you trust, and with lots of experience treating Parkinson’s patients. That may mean traveling to a major medical center where highly trained Parkinson’s care teams — neurologists, nurse specialists, and therapists — provide comprehensive care.
What can you do to slow Parkinson’s
The consensus is to keep moving. As someone newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s, you may not know about the importance of regular exercise. Any exercise you do consistently will help improve your Parkinson’s symptoms and overall health. Whether you are a beginner or an avid exerciser, it is crucial to create some new fitness goals. To do this, you will want to work with your healthcare team to develop a routine that is right for you.
Though you may be tempted to cut out exercise altogether, doing regular exercises such as yoga, walking, or swimming can help improve flexibility and mobility and reduce muscle and joint pain. More and more studies are finding that regular physical activity offers therapeutic effects for people with Parkinson’s. Here’s why:
- There is a lot of truth to the saying, “Use it or lose it.” Regular exercise builds muscle and bone and improves flexibility and balance.
- Vigorous exercise helps to maintain lung capacity.
- Many forms of exercise keep you socially active.
- Exercise improves mood and boosts self-confidence.
- Exercise might slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease.
Can brain training or neurofeedback therapy help Parkinson’s?
Several people have reported seeing encouraging results from using Neurofeedback therapy, or brain training as many refer to it, as a way to slow down the onset of Parkinson’s. By visiting a Neurofeedback Specialist, you would see how your brain is currently functioning and get a recommended program to follow, which you could use the Bellabee for at home. It would be worth revisiting the Neurofeedback Specialist to see how the changes are settling in.
What settings are used to treat Parkinson’s?
The Park-me setting on the Bellabee device uses the following settings:
To start off, run the setting for 20 minutes and slowly increase it up to an hour at a time.
Parkinson’s experience with Bellabee Brain Trainer
One lady talking about her husband found that his attitude, gait, speech, and cognition all improved, and even his sense of humor returned. She was so grateful for this magical device! These comments were made after only using the Bellabee on Park-Me setting for two weeks. It was being used for an hour, twice a day.