Community Blog

Parkinson’s disease in Seniors Mimics Natural Aging

By Debbie Humphrey

I have always been a fan of Michael J. Fox and the foundation he and his wife established following his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease as a young adult. I remember feeling confused that someone so young could have a disease that typically presented in mature adults, aged 60 years and over. However, after reviewing information on different websites, I learned about Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. Of the entire population of Parkinson’s sufferers, only 15% are under the age of 50.

April is Parkinson ’s Disease Awareness Month, and in 2017, there is still no definitive cause for the disease. Clinical trials continue to provide research which will, hopefully, answer that question, and one day, lead to a cure. In the meantime, how do you know if the symptoms being experienced are due to old age, or are symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in seniors you know and love?

Home Helpers ClearwaterAccording to Rachael Dolhoun, MD, and the MJFF website, “Unfortunately, both arthritis and Parkinson's stiffness (and often pain, as well) are worse in the mornings and after prolonged inactivity, so that usually doesn't differentiate the two. Logging symptoms in relation to PD drug administration may help, though. If stiffness and pain reoccur when medication wears off, or if they improve when PD medications take effect, then your stiffness or pain may be due to Parkinson's disease.”

A friend’s 70-something year-old Mom will sometimes joke about having “Half-heimer’s,” because she will forget where she put something, or miss noting something on her calendar. These things happen to us all as we get older, and are not necessarily signs of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson ’s disease.

Neuropsychological testing for PD may be in order if memory and cognitive thinking (planning and organizing) begin to fail, because in as much as “we may not be as sharp as (we) celebrate more birthdays,” these aspects may be “impacted” by PD. Neuropsychological testing can examine cognitive issues and the characteristics thereof to determine whether they are due to PD or another condition.

Another similarity between old age and PD is a slowing of gait and general movements. It’s true. We do tend to slow down as we age. After all, gravity is a given and a realistic fear in older people is that of falling.

However, Dr. Dolhoun says, “Shuffling gait, reduced swinging of one arm while walking and freezing episodes are not normal changes in walking that occur with getting older. If you do have Parkinson's, walking and balance problems can be part of the disease, but as with other symptoms, they could be due to other conditions as well. It's important to first discuss them with your doctor to ensure they are fully evaluated. Then, if your doctor approves, work with a physical therapist.”

A physical therapist with expertise in neurological functions can examine a person’s balance, gait and posture to determine if changes may be due to PD, age, or possibly another condition.

The point is, it may be quite difficult to differentiate between natural aging, PD, and other conditions. Symptoms of PD can mimic that of getting old, so it is important to stay in tune with your body and in communication of a healthcare team to differentiate between conditions.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and you are unable to be a caregiver to assist them with activities of daily living; or if transportation assistance is necessary for a senior to see members of a healthcare team to examine and treat these and other symptoms, please reach out to me.

Home Helpers® proudly serves patients with Parkinson’s and other forms of dementia in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson and surrounding areas. Contact us today to learn more about all the ways our compassionate caregivers can assist through Home Helpers®. We are Making Life Easier℠. 727-972-2539

Michael J. Fox Foundation
Davis Phinney Foundation