April 11th is World Parkinson Day!
Updated: Apr 14
What better way to celebrate than by publishing our first ever SpeakSTRONG blog post?
For those who may be new to SpeakSTRONG, welcome! We are a Speech Language Pathology (SLP) clinic specialized in speech and swallowing therapy for Parkinson disease and related movement disorders. The goal of this blog is to offer free and accessible information (without all the medical jargon). Share this blog post to spread the word to your family and friends!
In honour of World Parkinson Day, we thought it would be helpful to provide an introduction to Parkinson disease. While more in-depth blog posts are on the way, we've included some quick tips about
What Parkinson disease is, and how it progresses
How Parkinson disease is diagnosed
Common interventions for Parkinson disease
What is Parkinson disease, and how does it progress?
Parkinson disease is a progressive neurological condition. In other words, it is a condition that affects new areas of the brain over time. As this process happens, people with Parkinson disease may experience new or worsening symptoms. Neurologists and physicians sometimes describe the progression of Parkinson disease in "stages", and there are various standards for this. However, it is important to know that every person is different. Some people may experience different symptoms at different stages. Different people may also move through the stages of Parkinson disease at different rates.
How is Parkinson disease diagnosed?
Parkinson disease is considered a "movement disorder", in part because the clinical diagnosis relies on the presence of certain movement symptoms. These are:
Bradykinesia (slowness of movement)
AND at least one of the following
Rigidity (stiffness, sometimes in the legs, arms, or neck)
Resting tremor (rhythmic and unintentional movements of a part of the body when it is in a relaxed position)
Postural instability (difficulty with balance)
If these symptoms are identified during your examination, then the next step is to rule out other causes. In some cases, the above symptoms might not be due to Parkinson's disease. For example, these symptoms could be related to other issues that may need to be addressed (such as brain trauma, medications, or other movement disorders). Because of this, be sure to share your complete medical history and symptoms during your assessment.
The next step is to determine if there are any additional reasons to suspect Parkinson's disease. For example
Presence of other symptoms commonly associated with Parkinson disease (such as changes in speech, swallowing, smell, sleep, and others)
Onset of symptoms that matches a typical Parkinson disease case (such as symptoms starting on one side of the body and worsening over time)
A good and sustained response to Parkinson disease medication. The medication used is levodopa (you might also hear it called levodopa-carbidopa, or Sinemet). Most patients with Parkinson disease respond well to this medication - especially in the early stages. Therefore, your neurologist or physician might give you a "levodopa challenge". This means they will give you a trial of levodopa to test their hypothesis of Parkinson disease. If improvements occur with the medication, then that would support a potential Parkinson disease diagnosis.
However, there is a BIG caveat to all of this.
There is no way we can ever be sure that you do, in fact, have Parkinson disease. Sound nuts? Let us explain...
Parkinson disease is a clinical diagnosis. This means we look for patterns in signs, symptoms, and medical history to make a "best guess" for what the cause could be. Currently, there is no test to prove that someone has Parkinson disease. The only way that we can identify Parkinson disease with 100% accuracy is through an autopsy (and we don't recommend that, for hopefully obvious reasons).
Common interventions for Parkinson disease
There is no cure for Parkinson disease, but medications and treatments can help improve symptoms and potentially slow deterioration.
As we mentioned, levodopa medication is a common medical treatment. It is important to keep in mind that you may require adjustments to your levodopa dose over time. As your symptoms change, your need for levodopa may also change. This may include changes in the amount of medication you need, the number of doses you need, and the timing of when you take your doses throughout the day. There are also various forms of levodopa, although the most common form is a pill that you swallow.
Sometimes, traditional levodopa might not be enough for a person with Parkinson disease. Therefore, additional medications may be used to supplement levodopa, or to treat particularly bothersome symptoms in isolation. It is always important to take your medications according to the recommended instructions. Otherwise, the medications might not work or they may counteract each other.
Outside of medication, the most proven method to slow the progression of Parkinson disease symptoms is exercise! It can be especially helpful to find a physiotherapist who has experience in Parkinson disease, or join a group exercise class for people with Parkinson disease. One of our favourite resources is Parkinson Wellness Projects.
Parkinson Wellness Projects offers an enormous range of different exercise classes with different levels of difficulty. You can join in-person or online from your computer at home. If you haven't already, be sure to check them out!
Exercise also includes exercising the muscles used for speech and swallowing.
If you read that and thought, "Woah, I need to exercise my speech and swallowing muscles?", then you aren't alone. Many people aren't aware of the fact that upwards of 90% of people with Parkinson disease can experience changes to their speech and swallowing.
Exercising these muscles in speech therapy, specifically under the guidance of a registered Speech Language Pathologist, can make a critical difference to long-term success. SpeakSTRONG offers speech therapy from registered Speech Language Pathologists who have experience and training in Parkinson disease (you can even book an appointment online. So easy!).
It is recommended that anyone with Parkinson disease should find an exercise routine that they enjoy as soon as possible. The earlier you start, the better. If you're struggling with this, please reach out to a Parkinson community near you or speak with your medical professionals. We are here to help!
...Phew, you've made it to the end of this blog post! How was it? If you felt that this was helpful, then please let us know! Please also let us know if you have suggestions for our future posts - after all, this blog is designed to help YOU.
Thank you so much for your support. We wish you all a wonderful World Parkinson Day filled with lots of learning and advocacy!