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Parkinson's Disease guide for CDPAP Caregivers

Thursday, January 20, 2022

If you are the CDPAP caregiver of someone with Parkinson's disease, you're in the right place.

This article will help you understand what Parkinson's is from its symptoms, the related causes and risk factors, how it's treated, and more details that every caregiver needs to know.

What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease is a condition that impacts the nervous system. Patients who suffer from the illness may see their movements and motor skills decline.

In turn, this causes them to struggle when they want to walk and slows down their muscle and/or bone movements.

Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder. That is to say that its symptoms, which are initially light or unnoticeable, tend to become more severe over time.

Stages of Parkinson's Disease

The following are the different stages of Parkinson's disease that the sick or elderly loved one that you're caring for will go through, alongside each stage's symptoms and their severity:

  1. Early Stage: Your family member or friend could experience tremors, slower body movements, difficulty with walking, transformations in their posture, and/or changing facial expressions on one side of their body. However, the early stage's symptoms are mostly light and they don't influence the patient's ability to perform day-to-day tasks.
  2. Mid Stage: At this point, your loved one's symptoms will deteriorate, show up on both sides of their body, and be increasingly noticeable. While they are still capable of living independently, the patient might start to struggle at fulfilling their daily obligations.
  3. Mid-Late Stage: During the mid-late stage, people with Parkinson's disease begin to lose their balance, move at a relatively slower pace, and be more prone to falling. Your friend or family member can live alone. Yet, they could require assistance with getting dressed and preparing food. As the signs of the mid-late stage worsen, they may have to rely on a walker and a personal caregiver on a regular basis.
  4. Advanced Stage: The symptoms of the advanced stage, especially muscle stiffness in the legs, make it necessary for Parkinson's disease patients to use a wheelchair or stay in bed for long periods. If the loved one that you're caring for is in the advanced stage, it will be necessary for you to help them with all of their daily tasks, chores, and needs.

In spite of the debilitating nature of Parkinson's disease, the existing treatments and medications enable those who suffer from the condition to attain the quality of life that they desire.

The most effective way for doing so is to identify and immediately address any potential symptoms as soon as you or your family member/friend notice them.

Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

Here the main signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease:

  • Changes in speech and writing
  • Impairments in the balance and posture of the patient
  • A loss of automatic body movements
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Slower movements
  • Tremors

Seeing a doctor as soon as these signs appear becomes even more critical when your loved one has a high risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

Causes of Parkinson's Disease

There are various potential causes for this condition. The following four are considered to be the most prevalent ones:

Environmental Triggers

A person who is regularly exposed to toxins and unhealthy environmental elements is likely to suffer from Parkinson's disease when they get older. However, the associated risk is small in comparison to the other causes of this sickness.

Genes

Scientific studies have shown that certain genetic mutations could lead to a Parkinson's disease diagnosis.

Having said that, they are extremely rare and mostly pertain to those with a prolonged and/or extensive family history of Parkinson's disease.

Lewy Bodies

Lewy bodies are clumps of substances that appear in the brain's cell. They can only be seen through a microscope. Lewy bodies are a strong indicator that a person has Parkinson's disease.

Proteins in Lewy Bodies (Alpha-Synuclein)

In the same vein, researchers are looking at how clumped forms of alpha-synuclein (a protein that Lew Bodies contain) that are difficult for cells to break down contribute to the condition.

The precise causes of Parkinson's disease are yet to be pinned down, but some are more likely to develop it than others.

Who is at risk of developing Parkinson's disease?

At a higher risk of a Parkinson's disease diagnosis are:

  • People that are 60 years of age or older.
  • Those with family members that have Parkinson's disease.
  • Males.
  • People who are exposed to toxins.

If you suspect that an elderly family member or friend has Parkinson's disease, your best option for finding out is through an official diagnosis.

How is Parkinson's disease diagnosed?

Firstly, your loved one's doctor might conduct imaging scans (for example, computed tomography/CT and magnetic resonance imaging/MRI scans) to ensure that the symptoms aren't caused by another nervous system ailment with similar signs.

Secondly, the doctor may order additional tests or refer your family member or friend to a neurologist.

As mentioned earlier, diagnosing and treating Parkinson's disease at an early point will prevent its symptoms from getting worse and allow your loved one to lead a healthy life.

Complications That Come Along with Parkinson's Disease

As the caregiver of a Parkinson's disease patient, you may want to be thoroughly aware of the following complications this nervous system illness can cause:

  • Bladder Problems: Examples include urinary incontinence or struggling when doing so.
  • Blood Pressure Swings: When the care receiver stands up, their blood pressure suddenly drops and they become dizzy or lightheaded.
  • Constipation: This is a common issue since Parkinson's disease slows down their digestive tract's functioning.
  • Eating and Chewing Difficulties: If your loved one has late stage Parkinson's disease, their mouth muscles will probably be impacted. This makes it hard for them to chew food. Consequently, they could choke or suffer from malnutrition.
  • Emotional Instability and Depression: Shortly after their initial diagnosis, your friend or family member might experience anxiety, a lack of motivation, fear, and, above all, depression. In this situation, you want to talk to their doctor about these emotional challenges. As your loved one's psychological state improves after they take the relevant medications, they can fully focus on dealing with and managing Parkinson's disease and its symptoms. 
  • Fatigue: Even though the exact cause of this is unknown, Parkinson's disease leads to losses in energy and motivation during the latter hours of the day.
  • Pain: This either impacts the body, as a whole, or certain parts and areas.
  • Sexual Dysfunction: A decrease in sexual desire is also common.
  • Sleep Disorders and Difficulties: Parkinson's disease can create complications that include rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (a condition in which patients will act out their dreams). There are other examples, such as difficulty with remaining asleep throughout the night, getting up too early, and having a hard time with staying awake in the middle of the day.
  • Smelling Dysfunction: Your loved one may not recognize some smells or fail to differentiate between odors.
  • Swallowing Issues: Those that have more advanced stages of Parkinson's disease could struggle with swallowing their saliva and, as a result, run into issues with drooling.
  • Thinking Problems: Cognitive problems (dementia, for instance) and troubles with thinking are prevalent during the latter stages of the ailment. Many of them can't be treated with medications.

Given the seriousness of these complications, taking prevention measures is just as important as having your loved one go to the doctor for a potential early diagnosis once their symptoms appear. 

Prevention of Parkinson's Disease

The exact causes of Parkinson's disease are still unknown. Therefore, it goes without saying that there aren't scientifically-proven ways to prevent this ailment.

Nevertheless, researchers have discovered a possible link between aerobic exercises and a lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

Moreover, caffeine consumers (especially green tea drinkers) are diagnosed with this nervous system disorder less often than those who don't drink coffee or tea.

It should be noted that the available evidence and data doesn't suffice to confidently conclude that caffeine reduces the risk of Parkinson's disease.

Once a person is diagnosed, however, they will have various medicinal options for treating it.

Parkinson's Disease Treatment

Parkinson's disease can't be cured, but it can be managed and controlled via medications.

To clarify, the commonly-prescribed treatments help your loved one fight the condition through:

  • Enabling the brain's nerve cells to produce more dopamine.
  • Mimicking the way that dopamine acts.
  • Blocking enzymes that diminish the brain's dopamine levels.
  • Minimizing certain signs and symptoms.

Surgical approaches could be available to your friend or family member.

At the end of the day, the sooner you understand what your loved one's options are and decide on a treatment, the easier it will be for them to cope with Parkinson's disease and prevent it from creating a debilitating effect on their life.