Noticing the Signs of Parkinson’s Disease in a Loved One

Noticing the Signs of Parkinson’s Disease in a Loved One

Sherri Journeying Through

If you were to go to a Parkinson’s disease website, you’d probably find a post on signs and symptoms of PD. The problem is that it can be hard to notice the signs if you are the one with Parkinson’s disease. You may have grown so used to the symptoms that you no longer take them as something serious.

I’ve written this post for loved ones who might have a sense that something isn’t quite right with the one they love. It is a list of early signs you may notice before they do, and how you might be able to help them.

Most people notice tremors as the first symptom. However, did you know that there are other signs that someone may have Parkinson’s disease? Signs that are often overlooked even by medical doctors?

On one of my earlier visits to my neurologist, I learned that one of the very first signs of PD is depression. There was no reason for me to feel down at times like I did. However, as there are many other reasons for a person to feel down or depressed, don’t jump to conclusions that your loved one has PD. For a confirmed diagnosis, several signs or symptoms must be present. A diagnosis of PD has never been made purely because a person is depressed (that I have heard of anyhow).

There is a list of symptoms a movement disorder specialist will look for in making a correct diagnosis of PD. Shaking can be caused by other things such as a head injury, resting tremors, overextending yourself physically, prescriptions you may be taking, hypoglycemia, and more.

I remember working in my garden several years ago and not being able to smell the flowers anymore, and I didn’t understand why. Can you guess why? Yep. Little Monster took my sniffer. Every once in a while my ability to smell will resurface, and I get a good whiff of something.

Join the Parkinson’s forums: an online community for people with Parkinson’s Disease and their caregivers.

Does your loved one seem to be dragging one of their feet when they walk? Are they shuffling slightly? Has one of their arms lost its swing when they walk? Do they seem stiff in their movements? You have an objective perspective and may notice these things sooner.

No one who is happy or joyful likes to be asked, “What’s wrong with you?” That can happen with an early sign of PD known as the “masked face.” Why “masked” face? Because the facial muscles have tightened and people with PD have a harder time smiling or showing emotion.

Another symptom that I struggle with is my voice getting softer, making it hard for others to hear me. I had a soft voice to begin with, and when it got softer it made it more difficult to converse. Speech and vocal exercises can be done to strengthen the vocal cords if the problem is due to PD.

If you think someone you know might have early signs of PD, you might want to approach them as if they hadn’t noticed their symptoms. For example, don’t stare at them when they are shaking and ask, “Do I make you nervous?” Ask them if they’ve noticed that their hand shakes slightly. If they bring it to your attention, encourage them to have it checked out. If they are concerned and you act like it’s nothing, especially when you notice it, coupled with other signs related to early PD, they will feel silly and may think they are imagining things.

It takes several signs or symptoms to make a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, and this should be done by a neurologist, or better, a movement disorder specialist. Everyone lives with PD differently. Some are affected more by tremors, some by stiffness, some by pain, and some deal with it all.

If you are a person with PD, what were your first signs that “all was not well?” Did you recognize the signs first or was it a friend or family member?


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

Sherri was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease over 15 years ago. She can be found working in her garden, going for walks, taking pictures, or reading books to her three favorite grandkids. Sherri is taking life somewhat slower, and perhaps with guarded steps, but she’s not giving in.
Sherri was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease over 15 years ago. She can be found working in her garden, going for walks, taking pictures, or reading books to her three favorite grandkids. Sherri is taking life somewhat slower, and perhaps with guarded steps, but she’s not giving in.

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  1. Jacky Cleaver says:

    I first notices my left foot had a tremor. This was within days of the flue jab which I had said no to twice and at the third time gave in.( Of course it has nothing to do with it so the doctors say.) I put up with this tremor for a year or so then went to my doctor and said that I thought that I had Parkinson’s and he said it wasn’t,it was just a benign tremor. Well I put up with it for a year or more but when it also affected my hand as well I went to see another doctor who referred me to a neurologist. I walked up and down and he said I’ll eat my hat if it isn’t. Another symptom was falling asleep after lunch. That has now changed to after breakfast. If I don’t keep moving I just fall asleep . I’m finding the lack of energy one of the worst things. I have always been very active. I still have 3 ponies to look after two cats and a young energetic dog. They are what get me out of bed in the morning when it would be so easy to stay in bed and fall asleep.

    • Thank you, Jacky, for the comment. It is so important to get a second and sometimes third opinion, isn’t it? I too find it best to keep busy as a remedy for sleepiness. Today I made sure I was outside and ready to go when the sleepiness was about set to kick in. It worked! Enjoy your animals!

  2. Lou Hevly says:

    Dear Sherri,
    Thanks for sharing.
    My first symptom of PD was anosmia in 2005, though I had no idea it was a prelude to PD. I started getting postural tremors when I tipped a glass of liquid to drink in 2011, and I thought it was just part of getting old (I’m now 69). In 2015 a friend mentioned that I seemed a little more spaced out than usual (masked face) so finally I was examined by a neurologist, she had a DaTSCAN taken and after a couple other tests to eliminate other possibilities, she told me I had PD. So far my symptoms have been mild, the worse being occasional bouts of restless leg. I take 1mg Sinemet 3x daily and the only thing I’ve had to give up doing is playing the guitar and clarinet. I’ve been doing yoga for 3 years and get as much walking exercise in as possible.
    I’d be happy to answer any questions.

  3. gary hunt says:

    hi almost 3 years ago I was told by my doctor I had parkinsons dieease, now he has told me I have parkinsonism so I would like to know what changed, now im so confussed.

  4. Eileen Kenny says:

    I knew there was ‘something wrong with me’, but didn’t have a clue. I had learnt to play golf and my handicap had just started to reduce… but then, I kind of lost my confidence (or was it simply co-ordnation)? I stayed indoors more and more (apathy). My husband would tell me contantly to pick up my feet and stop shuffling like an old woman. My voice was getting softer and softer. I also avoided group get togethers, I didn’t like to talk to others (I could hear myself waffling on – then I would panic, and get all tongue-tied).
    Then my grand daughter was born and I went to stay to help my daughter with the new baby. After a while my daughter questioned me; mainly about my inability to get up from the floor easily, my slowness with any fiddly little baby fastenings and just my slowness in general.
    My daughter encouraged me to go to the doctors, who listened to my story but said we all get slower as we age (I was 58 and did not consider myself old). However, she sent me to our local hospital to see a neurologist, who thought I had myasthenia.
    My daughter suggested going to ee another neurologist in a neighbouring city, he sent me for a DAT scan. The rest is history.
    I am almost 4 years on from that time and do not take any Parky meds… instead I choose to manage my symptoms with Dr Atkins’ vita-nutrients and a ketogenic diet.

  5. I had noticed tremors 2 yrs. ago , have severe restless leg , am very clumsy ( trip 0ver air) suffer from severe depression and need to sleep @ least 12 hours a day. Finally my Dr. said Parkinsons and is sending me to an neurologist does it sound like Parkinsons ?

    • Hi Lillian – Your symptoms do mimic PD but I am not a physician and seeing a neurologist is the next logical step, as the symptoms of PD can mimic so many other neurological diseases. If the neurologist does indeed give you a PD diagnosis, get in to see a movement disorder specialist as soon as you are able. And, good luck. If you have any other questions fee free to ask!

    • Hi Lillian
      I hope you don’t mind me asking how you got on at the neurologist.
      My husband has all the symtoms you have but neurologist did not think it was PD but sent him for a datscan
      The waiting for results is awful !

      • Hi Lillian – Using DatScans for confirming PD is fairly new and I’m not too knowledgeable on the topic. My best advice would be to get a second opinion and I would recommend a movement disorder specialist (a neurologist with specialized training in diseases such as Parkison’s), if at all possible.

  6. Raed says:

    Hi, can a Parkinson or tremor get to a 15 years old kid??? I dunno but my head sometime move a very little bit by there own and my arm fell hurt. Please answer ASAP… because I am literally scare

    • Hi Raed – I am not a doctor so my reply will be limited as to what to advise but I would advise seeing your doctor. Parkinson’s has been found in children although it is extremely/highly uncommon. I would see a regular doctor first. Your symptoms don’t sound like the typical PD symptoms but then, PD isn’t typical in how it presents itself to people. I would not spend valuable time fretting over it. Make an appointment with your doctor and go from there. Good luck. Let me know what happens.

  7. dan says:

    I hope this comment section is still being monitored. This is not about me, but my neighbor who is 80. He is experiencing hand tremors, tells me he goes through cycles where he is constipated, has anxiety and feels depressed, is slightly hunched over, and says he has no sense of smell. To me all these are the signs of PD (having lost a fellow veteran to the disease a few months ago). I obviously am not a doctor, but am concerned because I have told him he needs to see one and he hasn’t gone. I don’t want to come out and say, “I think you got Parkinsons! I know his daughter, but if I told her and he found out, it would severely hurt our friendship. He is one of those people who hates seeing a doctor. What would anyone suggest how I approach him?

    • If she hasn’t been properly diagnosed so that you know for sure it’s PD, do that first so you know for certain (that can take time in some cases) that is what you’re dealing with. PD is a lifelong chronic illness with no known cure. With that said, there are some very effective medications and treatments that can make your mother not only more comfortable but in better health all around: diet/nutrition, regular exercise (cycling, dancing, boxing, walking, so much more)… talk with her neurologist and see what is best for her. Don’t give up!

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