9 ways Parkinson's disease will affect your life

Parkinson’s changes the lives of its sufferers irrevocably. We asked an expert to shed some light on this disease and offer some guidance.

22 January 2015
by Jennifer Campbell

According to Karin Willemse of The Parkinson’s Association of South Africa, the first signs of Parkinson’s are adverse physical symptoms, but as the disease progresses it takes an emotional, mental, psychological and social toll too.

It’s important to note that while these symptoms may impact your life, every person reacts differently and the disease usually progresses very slowly. Willemse explains what to expect so that you are prepared for the challenges:

1. Tremors

A tremor usually begins in a limb, and most often in a hand or fingers. You may notice a back-and-forth rubbing of your thumb and forefinger known as a pill-rolling tremor. One characteristic of Parkinson's disease is a tremor of your hand when it is relaxed.

2. Slowed movement (bradykinesia)

Over time, Parkinson's disease may reduce your ability to move and slow your movement, making simple tasks difficult and time-consuming.

3. Rigid muscles

Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body. The stiff muscles can limit your range of motion and cause you pain.

4. Impaired posture and balance

Your posture may become stooped, or you may have balance problems.

5. Speech changes

You may have speech problems as a result of Parkinson's disease. You may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before talking. Your speech may be more of a monotone rather than include the usual inflections. A speech-language pathologist can help with problems.

6. Writing changes

Writing may appear small and become increasingly difficult.

7. Depression

Besides these physical changes, Willemse says that depression is quite common and disabling for Parkinson’s patients – and it is the symptom most often overlooked. “Up to 60 percent of people with Parkinson’s experience mild or moderate depressive symptoms. In fact, research suggests that the disease itself causes chemical changes in the brain that may lead to depression,” explains Willemse.

8. Continual readjustments

Willmese explains that living with Parkinson’s requires continual readjustment as the disease slowly progresses through to severe disability. Depending on the level of impairment, daily activities such as getting dressed, driving and eating may become more challenging.

9. Redefinition of roles

Roles within the family, in the community and at work may need to be redefined, says Willemse. “An individual’s sense of who they are can also be challenged if the disease adversely affects intimate relationships,” says Willemse. Willemse’s advice is to tackle problems as they arise. “A positive mindset and a regular exercise regime will go a long way in helping to keep people with Parkinson’s disease moving,” she says.

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