Parkinson’s is a progressive, chronic disease. This means a big part of disease management is recognizing and managing the symptoms. However, symptoms can vary greatly from one person to the next. Parkinson’s symptoms change between the early stage and late stage of the disease, but they can even change from day to day for some people.
Some of the early symptoms of Parkinson’s include tremor, usually in one hand. While the tremor isn’t always the first symptom to appear, it’s very often the first symptom that prompts an official Parkinson’s diagnosis. For many people, slow movement, loss of balance and stiffness are their first symptoms. However, they relate those issues to normal aging or poor fitness level, and don’t realize they are signs of a much bigger problem.
Motor symptoms are what most people commonly associate with Parkinson’s. These include tremors, rigidity, and issues with coordination. Many people with Parkinson’s walk with a slow, shuffling gait, or have involuntary movements, and all their movements become smaller and slower. Maintaining good balance and coordination also often becomes a problem.
Non-motor symptoms are also an aspect of Parkinson’s disease. This includes sleep problems, cognitive issues, mood alteration, and the loss or distortion of the sense of smell. Sleep symptoms can often include difficulty getting and staying asleep, nightmares, or daytime sleepiness and general fatigue. Cognitive symptoms can include confusion (especially later in the day), dementia, or issues with thinking, remembering and comprehension. Managing these symptoms can greatly improve quality of life.
Some people with Parkinson’s struggle with symptoms that affect their ability to communicate well. They can experience difficulty speaking loudly or clearly enough for others to understand them. There are also some facial symptoms, like “masking” or reduced facial expression, which can make it hard for others to pick up on the emotional content of what they say. Along with smaller movement, sometimes their handwriting will become smaller and difficult to read.