Caregivers play an important role in identifying the symptoms of diseases that commonly affect the elderly. One such disease is Parkinson’s, which has an average age of onset of 60. While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, diagnosing it early allows those with Parkinson’s to begin treatment that helps control their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Because of this, home health aides and caregivers play an essential role in recognizing Parkinson’s symptoms and bringing them to the medical team’s attention.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that primarily affects the neurons producing the neurotransmitter dopamine. This happens slowly over the years, and the progression is typically different from person to person.
Despite the variations in progression, there are some symptoms that commonly appear amongst those with Parkinson’s, which caregivers should be sure to watch for.
This symptom can be tricky for caregivers to distinguish as a sign of Parkinson’s, but the key is noticing when the tremor occurs and the type of tremor.
Those with Parkinson’s often experience a tremor when at rest, whereas general tremors affecting seniors typically occur when they are moving their hands or trying to do something with small movements. Additionally, the tremor of someone with Parkinson’s does not resemble the typical tremor of a shaking hand. Instead, it appears as though they are rolling a pill or other small object between their thumb and forefinger, which is why they are called pill-rolling tremors.
Parkinson’s is not always the cause of pill-rolling tremors, but it is one of the most common. 75% of those with Parkinson’s have a pill-rolling tremor, and it is usually one of the earliest symptoms.
Another symptom of Parkinson’s is bradykinesia, which is a slowness of movement. This slowness can occur in many ways, including:
- reduction of automatic movements (e.g., swinging arms when walking or blinking)
- general slowness in physical actions
- difficulty starting movements, such as getting out of a chair
- abnormal stillness
- decrease in facial expression
These difficulties can become especially apparent to a caregiver or home health aide when the senior begins having trouble performing everyday functions such as cutting their food, brushing their teeth, or buttoning a shirt.
Some extent of stiffness is a normal part of aging or arthritis, but those with Parkinson’s experience more extreme stiffness than what is considered normal for seniors. Some people with Parkinson’s describe this stiffness as a tightness in their limbs that can occur on one or both sides of the body. It can also contribute to limited ranges of motion.
In-home assistance CNAs, Home Health Aides, and PCAs should be aware of reduced arm swinging when walking, especially on one side, as this is a common symptom in many people with Parkinson’s. Stiffness in the facial muscles is also common, which can lead to a decrease in facial expressions.
The above symptoms of tremors, bradykinesia, and limb rigidity are the three symptoms doctors look for when making a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Caregivers who can provide insight into the appearance of these symptoms and their severity can play an essential role in the diagnosing of Parkinson’s and getting the senior started on medications to help control their symptoms.
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Young-Onset Parkinson’s Disease. (2021). Retrieved 9 May 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/parkinsons-disease/youngonset-parkinsons-disease
Zach, H., Dirkx, M., Bloem, B., & Helmich, R. (2015). The Clinical Evaluation of Parkinson’s Tremor. Journal Of Parkinson’s Disease, 5(3), 471-474. doi: 10.3233/jpd-150650
Parkinson’s Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. (2022). Retrieved 9 May 2022, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/parkinsons-disease