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Your Healthy Family: Signs & symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

Posted at 7:40 AM, Apr 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-27 07:13:46-04

NAPLES, Fla. — April is Parkinson's Awareness Month. Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative disease that causes a loss in dopamine in the brain, which is important in the neuropathways for movement, speech, and thought. Experts say the signs of Parkinson's can vary.

“People have the analogy of a snowflake. There's no snowflake that's exactly like another, and that's the way it is for people with Parkinson's,” Mary Schoeffel, the Executive Director of the Parkinson's Association of Southwest Florida, said.

She said Parkinson's Disease, affects the three Ms: movement, mood, and muscle.

“When you think about the symptoms of Parkinson's, most people think about a tremor. And that's what Dr. Parkinson identified was a tremor. Not everybody has tremors," Schoeffel said.

"In fact, about 25 percent of people that have Parkinson's Disease do not have a tremor," Larry Sternberg, whose wife has Parkinson's, said.

Sternberg said a tremor wasn't one of Karin's first symptoms when she was diagnosed 15 years ago.

"She was losing focus, had trouble with balance, had some rigidity, and finally reached a point where she said, look, there's something wrong. I need to see somebody else and be evaluated," he said.

He said Karin's more subtle symptoms have now progressed.

“To the point where she's pretty dependent on all activities of daily living," Sternberg said.

Schoeffel said Parkinson's can impact people's muscles in other ways.

“One of the signs is if your handwriting starts getting smaller," she said. "Your steps become shorter. They get closer together. There's freezing. A person with Parkinson's can be walking, and their brain is telling their feet to move, but they are stuck to the floor."

When it comes to mood, she said another sign of Parkinson's is depression.

“Depression is also something that is very common, which is why we do so many support groups," Schoeffel said.

Other symptoms of Parkinson's include difficulty swallowing, and projecting your voice.

The Parkinson's Association of Southwest Florida is sponsored by BrightStar Care in Fort Myers and Naples. BrightStar Care is an in-home care agency and a Your Healthy Family partner.