Parkinson’s and Seniors

Parkinson’s and Seniors

When it comes to Parkinson’s, the emotional effects felt by the sufferer and their family are just as important as the physical. Since April is National Parkinson’s Awareness Month, let’s review the facts and figures that affect nearly 1.5 million Americans and the newly 60,000 people diagnosed each year. Fifty percent more men than women are afflicted.  It usually affects those over 65 and approximately one percent of all seniors have some form of Parkinson’s.  However, as we know from the Michael J. Fox story there is also a “young-onset” form of the disease that attacks people under 50.


Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder resulting from nerve cells in the brain not producing enough of the chemical dopamine, which regulates movement.  The disease develops gradually, often starting on one side of the body as a slight tremor in one hand, for example. One of the most noticeable symptoms of Parkinson’s is tremor in which the body makes involuntary quivering movements.  As the disorder progresses, the trembling may spread to both sides of the body and be accompanied by other symptoms such as muscle stiffness, slowing of movement, and deterioration in balance and coordination. Some people with Parkinson’s will eventually experience dementia as their disease progresses, including loss of memory and other cognitive functions.  This progression generally takes four to eight years after the initial onset of the disease.


Primary Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Difficulties with balance, swallowing, chewing, speaking
  • Tremor of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
  • Slowness of movement (Bradykinesia)
  • Rigidity/stiffness of the limbs and trunk
  • Poor balance/corrdination

Secondary Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Sleep issues, including waking up frequently during the night or suddenly falling asleep during the day
  • Psychological issues including problems with cognition, anxiety and depression
  • Cognitive problems (dementia), hallucinations, or loss of intellectual capacity, usually in the later stages of the disease
  • Difficulty showing facial expression, such as smiling or frowning
  • Speech may become slow, whispery, or slurred
  • Trouble chewing or swallowing, risk of choking; excessive salivation, drooling
  • Constipation, loss of bowel and/or bladder control
  • Handwriting may become small, cramped
  • Difficulty with fine movements such as tying shoe laces or buttoning shirts
  • Excessive sweating, sexual dysfunction, aches and pains
  • Scaling, dry skin on the face or scalp


Families can help and protect their loved-one in many ways.  They can reduce the risk of falls and other accidents due to poor balance by:

  • Arranging a home safety evaluation
  • Installing and using grab bars in the tub and shower
  • Buying and using a bath chair or stool in the shower
  • Keeping floors smooth but not slippery
  • Storing supplies in easy to reach cabinets
  • Brightly lighting stairways
  • Putting nightlights in bathrooms and hallways
  • Keeping hallways and other walking areas free of clutter
  • Making sure carpets are fully tacked to the ground; remove throw rugs
  • Ensuring the loved-one wears low-heeled, comfortable shoes; no slippery socks and slippers

They can also implement living and lifestyle changes including:

  • Reducing stress
  • Increasing socialization, decrease isolation
  • Accessing physical therapy, massage therapy by senior/geriatric specialists
  • Exercising or walking together
  • Establishing a dietary and medication schedule
  • Cutting food into smaller portions to avoid choking and improve digestion
  • Having the person sit upright for 30 minutes after a meal
  • Learning the Heimlich maneuver
  • Modifying tasks so they can continue to do things for themselves no matter how long it takes
  • Finding alternative means of transportation


So far there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there are medications and treatment that address the symptoms of the disease.  The most common medications that are prescribed are:

  • Levodopa/Carbidopa (Sinemet)
  • Entacapone (Comtan)
  • Dopamine agonists
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors


Depending on the patient, the physician may discuss surgical options.


Having a loved-one with Parkinson’s changes all lives.  The person must be cared for, but other family members must take care of themselves as well.  Caregivers need to take regular breaks to avoid burnout.  They also must maintain social activities and ties.  It is more important than ever to find was to relax, enjoy themselves and have fun.  Joining a support group can be very beneficial.  The local office of the National Parkinson Foundation has a list of support groups in one’s area.