A primary goal of therapy for patients with Parkinson’s disease is to control symptoms for as long as possible. It begins with early detection.
“A lot of times Parkinson’s will manifest itself with a tremor. Then a person can develop what’s called rigidity, which is stiffness, a stiff feeling throughout the body. It’s mostly seen with a change in walking. A person wants to move and their feet get stuck. That’s often a hallmark,” says Nathalie Grondin, physical therapist with Lee Memorial Health System.
Changes in facial expression, sometimes called a masked face and shaky handwriting are other early warning signs. Once a diagnosis is made, therapists suggest getting a baseline of skills to monitor progression. An example is to get a writing sample.
Movements and balance is also measured.
“We ask her to get up without using her hands and typically standing up is also very challenging because a person is not shifting their weight far enough forward, so what you would see happen, the person would stand and then kind of fall back into their seats,” says Grondin.
A full workup includes a total of 41 assessments. Each measured on a unified disease rating scale. The evaluation highlights areas of weakness, things that can be worked on with therapy.
“It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that goes through several stages, but it’s been proven that with regular exercise activity targeted towards specific problems, that a person can actually slow the progression of Parkinson’s,” says Grondin.
While studies show people who delay or skip treatment altogether have a poor prognosis, monitoring Parkinson’s puts patients in a powerful position and may greatly improve quality of life.