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5 Stages of Parkinson's Disease

Dr. Jeremiah McDole - May 15, 2017 12:52 PM

There are approximately 1 million Americans suffering with Parkinson’s disease, and the number increases by nearly 60,000 each year. It’s important to note, however, that the disease affects more people than just those who have been diagnosed with it. If someone you love has been afflicted with Parkinson’s, you know all too well that it can be just as difficult for those who care for the patient on a daily basis as it is on the patient. As of now, Parkinson’s is incurable, and that’s just as true for the emotional toll the disease takes on you and your family as you focus on caring for your loved one and lessening his or her suffering. Even though a Parkinson’s diagnosis can be devastating, there are ways in which you and other care partners can alleviate the burden on yourselves and your loved ones suffering from Parkinson’s. Understanding each stage of the disease can be a good place to start.

Stage 1

In its earliest stages, Parkinson’s manifests itself in the form of trembling of the hands or limbs, uncontrollable shaking, loss of balance, poor posture and/or abnormal facial expressions. At this stage, the shock of the initial diagnosis may be the most difficult thing for the patient, but you can make things easier for him or her by staying calm and offering as much support as possible. Keeping track of your loved one’s medical appointments, therapy sessions and medications can eliminate some of the stress and allow the patient to focus on coping with the diagnosis.

Stage 2

Patients entering the second stage of Parkinson’s begin to lose some of their independence, as simple everyday tasks such as buttoning a shirt or tying shoes becomes much more difficult. As their limbs continue to stiffen, they start to lose the ability to walk or stand up straight without assistance. The difficulty of watching this happen to your loved one may move you to try to do as much as possible for him or her, but doctors say this may only contribute to feelings of helplessness and depression. Instead, patients should be given enough time to accomplish simple tasks on their own, and caregivers should present them with simple, achievable goals to maintain their sense of self-worth.

Stage 3

The third stage of Parkinson’s is characterized by communication becoming much more difficult for the patient as his or her speech becomes slower and slurred. As a caregiver, you should remember this and take care to always speak to your loved one face to face, concentrating on simple “yes/no” questions.

Stage 4

A patient in the fourth stage of Parkinson’s is likely to require full-time assistance, as he or she will probably be unable to take more than a few steps at a time. Caregivers most likely will be devoted to spending as much time as possible by their loved ones’ sides, but even as you do so it is important to remember to also take time to care for yourself. Even though it may feel as if you’re abandoning your loved one, you need to take time to relax and clear your head by doing the things you enjoy doing so you’ll be physically and emotionally rested.

Stage 5

By the time Parkinson’s progresses to its final stage, the patient will most likely be in a full-time care facility because caring for himself or herself will be impossible. The stresses and anxiety you experience as a caregiver for a loved one suffering from Parkinson’s can be overwhelming, and that is why it can be beneficial to seek a support group dedicated to care partners. Having a room full of sympathetic ears to listen to you and share experiences can help you feel less alone.

Parkinson’s disease does far more than take away a person’s independence — it takes an undeniable toll on a patient’s family and loved ones, as well. Although there does not yet exist a cure for Parkinson’s and its residual effects on caregivers, having a clear perspective and understanding of the disease can make those effects easier for you to bear.

Dr. Jeremiah McDole is the Chief Science Officer at TruStem Cell Therapy. During his academic science career, Jeremiah worked in a broad range of therapeutic areas that targeted multiple human diseases.

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