Understanding Non-Motor Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

By August 21, 2017Parkinson's Disease
Two hands showing the non motor symptoms of parkinsons's disease

Some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are visible and well-known like shaking, tremors and stiffness when walking. However, there are many non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease as well and they are just as important to understand as the visible ones. If you are caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s disease, here is what you need to know about the non-motor symptoms of the disease.

Non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may develop years before visible symptoms lead to a positive diagnosis. They can disrupt a person’s life and adversely impact their overall health. Because they cannot be seen, these symptoms may continue to increase before their cumulative effect causes alarm. No one symptom means that a person has Parkinson’s disease, but together they may lead to a positive diagnosis. It is important to pay attention to unusual symptoms that occur regularly.

Keep reading: The three stages of Parkinson’s for caregivers »

According to the National Parkinson Foundation1, the most common non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Depression and anxiety, irritability and other mood disorders.
  • Cognitive changes including memory difficulties and dementia, problems using or processing language, trouble focusing, slow thought and changes in personality.
  • Hallucinations and delusions. These can be visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory (sense of smell) or involve the sense of taste, such as a bitter taste in the mouth.
  • Light-headedness.
  • Any type of sleep disorder including insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, rapid eye movement behavior disorder, vivid dreams, talking and moving during sleep, restless legs syndrome.
  • Constipation.
  • Feeling full after eating small amounts of food.
  • Pain and fatigue.
  • Vision problems. These can include double vision, dry eyes and decreased blinking.
  • Sweating profusely from the hands and feet even after no exercise.
  • Loss of sense of smell.
  • Sexual problems.
  • Weight loss or weight gain.
  • New impulsive behaviors that make it difficult to stop eating, shopping or gambling. (Can be a side effect of medications.)

There are other non-motor symptoms that affect muscles of the body that cannot be seen, like the tongue. These may adversely impact the ability to speak and swallow. Symptoms can include:

  • A different, soft voice. The clarity of the voice may be unpredictable.
  • Drooling when swallowing slows.
  • Food may get stuck in the throat.
  • Choking and coughing may become a problem.
  • Heartburn or a sore throat may become more common.
  • Speech problems.

One of the most challenging things about Parkinson’s disease is the difficulty in diagnosing it. Taken together, motor and non-motor symptoms may indicate the presence of the disease. Motor symptoms can include:

  • Tremors or shaking.
  • Masked or non-expressive face.
  • Stiffness while walking.
  • Small handwriting.
  • Loss of smell.

Read more: How to care for the specific needs of Parkinson’s patients at home »

If you notice that a loved one has a combination of motor and non-motor symptoms exhibited over time, document them and consult with your doctor. Parkinson’s disease develops slowly over time and the symptoms may have been developing for many years before they become evident. It is best if a family member attends the doctor’s appointment as well to provide insight into the signs and symptoms they have observed.

Getting medical attention when you do notice unusual symptoms is the first step toward getting a diagnosis and making lifestyle changes that can slow the progression of the disease.

Learn more about LivHOME’s Parkinson’s care program.

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