For those involved in elder care, either as an occupation or out of respect for the needs of a loved one, the subject of Parkinson’s Disease may become part of their daily vernacular. As the second most common neuro-degenerative disorder in the United States, Parkinson’s Disease is most common among the 50 years of age and older population. With that said, it is also important to note that this debilitating disease process can begin in people as young as 30 years of age.
Early Signs and Symptoms
Early signs of the disease process include loss of coordination, muscle stiffness, weakened voice, tremors and loss of sexual function (in men). For many patients, the neuro-degeneration caused by Parkinson’s Disease can proceed slowly for the rest of their lifespan, meaning that, while these symptoms may not improve, they will not grow noticeably worse in a rapid time-frame. Fortunately, this means that a large percentage of Parkinson’s Disease patients will require limited elder care services beyond basic in-home care or the assistance of a private caregiver to successfully live at home with the disease.
Elder Care and Parkinson’s Disease
As caregivers, there are a few things that can be done to assist patients suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. Physical therapy, especially during the early and middle stages of the degenerative process, may be extremely helpful in maintaining the patient’s range of motion and flexibility, thus prolonging the painful stiffening of the joints and other debilitating effects of the disease. Some patients also respond well to vitamin supplement and drug therapies to reduce or slow the progress of pain, inflammation and other symptoms of the disease process. In the later stages of the process, a patient may become more reliant upon the assistance of others to accomplish basic tasks, such as shaving, brushing of teeth or bathing. Unfortunately, due to degeneration of cognitive and sensory functions, the patient may not recognize the need for added assistance so it falls to the caregiver to decide when the extra help is appropriate.
While the physical effects of Parkinson’s Disease can be devastating, the non-motor function effects of the degeneration process are often the most troubling for patients, family members and the elder care team that is trying to provide needed support. As a neuro-degenerative process, Parkinson’s disease can cause patients to suffer from depression and anxiety. The disease can also cause normally fluent speakers to lose their train of thought or develop a twitch during conversations, which makes communication difficult. Caregivers can assist the patient by displaying patience and empathy in these situations, as well as redirecting the patient when lessened cognitive function is causing them to make dangerous decisions.
By providing for the patients physical and mental needs, caregivers can ensure that those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease can continue to live a full and well-adapted life at home or in assisted living.