What is Parkinson’s Disease, anyway?

What is Parkinson’s Disease, anyway?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is one of the most prevalent diseases being diagnosed today.  It is also very scary to watch a loved one with the symptoms of PD.  Unlike dementia, hallucinations or Alzheimer’s, PD is an in your face disease.  Symptoms into tremors, coordination problems, balance and gait problems.  We watch our family and close friends unable to use their hands due to tremors which will not allow writing, eating or drinking (due to spills) and in some cases grooming to name a few.  We watch them fall when trying to walk in familiar surroundings.  It is heartbreaking to watch a person who has carried you on their shoulders or taught you to ride a bike, unable to button their shirt due to tremors.

Tremors are only one symptom of this disease.  The loss of balance and motor-control is another major issue and one that can be very dangerous.  Falls can cause broken bones, they will also in many cases lead to isolation and depression.

So what is PD anyway?  We can see it, feel it and hear about it, but just exactly what is the cause.  Per the www.ninds.nih.gov (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)  PD belongs to a group of conditions called motor system disorders, which are the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells.  This is probably one of the easiest definitions to understand.  But what is this Dopamine producing brain cells?  Dopamine is the chemical which works as a conductor for nerve signals within the brain.  In the case of PD the lack of function is in one part of the brain.  There is substantial research and testing being done to find a cure or to stop the progression of PD.

This is all very nice and the doctor has prescribed medications for our family member or friend, but what can we do now?  Actually there are several things we can do to help most of which you may have heard or been told by the physician, but this time look at these from a different view point.  Do not look at them as a cure or a catastrophic symptom, which they are, rather look at them as a physical therapist.  If you have not had the opportunity to consult with a physical therapist, occupational therapist or recreational therapist, then ask your physician for one now.  The importance of this connection during this disease will be invaluable.

Because PD is a physical disease the connection to therapist who know the tools and techniques will provide you with infinite knowledge.  An example is for the person who is having trouble getting food from their plate or bowl to their mouth due to tremors; there are especially designed utensils and dishes to help.  This can save mounds of frustration and stave off the lack of meeting necessary caloric intake.  And for the pride of the person with PD these can be used in one’s own home and with a slight adjustment provide for use in public to continual socializing which is so important to the mental health of our family member or friend.  The therapist can help with special shoes which will enhance balance and soften the noise made by shoes being tapped or bumped on the floor due to leg and foot tremors.  Again this will help with lessening the frustration, embarrassment and determined lack of wanting to be seen in public.

There are other symptoms which are seen in connection with this disease.  One is Bradykinesia which is simply a slow movement due to PD getting the muscles to move.  There is little we as family and friends can do for this except to gage our movements to the person and not call attention to the slow movement.  Another symptom is the pain associated with muscle ridgety in the legs and feet.  This is a symptom which can be relieved somewhat by the physician involved.  However, the caveat is pain relievers come with their own set of stability problems.

Our family member or friend probably does have other symptoms, but the question at hand is what we can do to help, and get through this storm of watching someone we love fall apart in front of our eyes.  There are many things we can do and some have been mentioned in the paragraphs above.  Other things that will help our much loved family member or friend is to help them in little ways.  Try not to make a noticeable fuss about their symptoms; watch carefully for signs and symptoms of depression; look for ways you can help them keep doing what they have done all their life; and always show them the dignity you would want today.

The absolute best thing you can do is to be their very best friend.  Know when to step in, when to allow them to do for themselves (no matter how hard it is for you to watch) and when to befriend them in a difficult situation when others do not understand.  Allow them to have their own autonomy, while helping them through each day, situation and symptom.  Know how to listen to the words, body language, emotions and love.  Just being present without offering help all of the time is a tremendous acknowledgement to a person dealing with Parkinson’s disease.