Parkinson’s disease often develops after age 50. One of the most common nervous system disorders of the elderly, it is a disorder of the brain that leads to shaking (tremors) and difficulty with walking, movement and coordination. It sometimes occurs in younger adults and affects both men and women.
In some cases, Parkinson’s disease occurs in families, and when a young person is affected, it’s usually because of a form of the disease that runs in families, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health (NIH).
The disorder may affect one or both sides of the body. How much function is lost can vary, and symptoms may be mild at first. A patient may have a mild tremor or a slight feeling that one leg or foot is stiff and dragging.
Symptoms include automatic movements (such as blinking) slow or stop; constipation; difficulty swallowing, drooling; impaired balance and walking; lack of expression in the face (mask-like appearance); muscle aches and pains; and movement problems.
Additional symptoms include difficulty starting or continuing movement, such as starting to walk or getting out of a chair; loss of small or fine hand movements; writing may become small and difficult to read; eating becomes difficult; and slowed movements or stopped position.
Other symptoms are rigid or stiff muscles, often beginning in the legs; shaking and tremors; slower, quieter speech and a monotone voice; anxiety, stress and tension; confusion or dementia; depression; fainting, hallucinations or memory loss.
Health care providers may be able to diagnose Parkinson’s disease based on a patient’s symptoms and a physical exam; however, the symptoms can be difficult to assess, particularly in the elderly.
The signs (tremor, change in muscle tone, problems walking, unsteady posture) become clearer as the illness progresses. An examination may show jerky, stiff movements, muscle atrophy, Parkinson’s tremors and a variation in heart rate. Reflexes should be normal, and tests may be needed to rule out other disorders that cause similar symptoms.
There is no known cure of Parkinson’s disease, and the goal is to control symptoms, according to NIH.