April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the amount of dopamine produced in the brain. PD is a movement and sensory disorder that decreases the speed and size of movements.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or hormone produced in the brain that is involved in blood circulation, digestion, heart and kidney function, memory, mood, motor control, and many other important functions in the body. Dopamine contributes to the feelings of alertness, focus and happiness. It works in conjunction with other hormones produced in the brain like serotonin and adrenaline. Depending on the levels of each hormone produced, all the above can be affected either by speeding up or slowing down a particular function.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s

Due to the wide variety of functions dopamine influences in the body there are several symptoms that can come with Parkinson’s Disease. While the disease may look different for each patient, the most common symptoms include tremors, bradykinesia or slow movement, limb rigidity and problems with gait and balance. Bradykinesia plus rigidity and/or tremors must be present for PD to be considered for diagnosis.

  • Tremors are typically visible in the hands, which is called pill rolling as it can appear as if the patient is rolling a pill between their forefinger and thumb. Tremors may also occur in the lip, jaw, leg or internally in the chest, abdomen or limbs.
  • Bradykinesia is the medical term for slow (brady) movement (kinesis). This can occur in different ways from blinking your eyes to standing from a chair. It is not only frustrating, but also unpredictable and can cause difficulty with performing everyday tasks.
  • Rigidity may occur either unilateral or bilaterally in the body which will reduce the range of motion in arms, legs and trunk. This symptom may be evident with a reduced arm swing while walking, stiffness of facial muscles which can lead to facial masking, and poor sleep quality as it becomes more difficult to move and get comfortable in bed.

As a result of the above symptoms, patients will experience increased difficulty with gait, balance and posture. With progression of the disease patients may begin to fall more often, find themselves unable to stand from a chair or feed themselves. This is where Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy can make a large difference in maintaining quality of life.

Treatment at Adams County Manor and Morris Nursing Home

Adams County Manor and Morris Nursing Home offers all three therapy disciplines to ensure all symptoms of the disease are targeted and treated.  Our Physical Therapist is certified in the Big and Loud program which is a program designed specifically for PD patients. It is a one-month program with one-hour treatments, four days a week for four consecutive weeks that incorporate exercises backed by research and evidence.

The Occupational Therapy staff is highly qualified and experienced in training those with neurological disorders to be more independent with daily tasks such as bathing, dressing and eating. Along with handwriting and fine motor coordination training, they can make suggestions for adaptive equipment to allow for patients to be more independent and safer within their home environment.

Speech Therapy focuses on facial exercises to maintain the ability to perform facial expressions, interventions to promote safe swallowing so the patient can continue their current diet, and work on the ability to improve voice acoustics. As the disease progresses it is important for a SLP to be involved in treatment to ensure the patient is not aspirating on their food and are able to communicate with those providing their care.