Early symptoms of Parkinson's disease can be subtle, and may include things like abnormal movement, a reduction in facial expressiveness, personality changes, and softened or slurred speech. These symptoms may be attributed to normal aging or other processes, and tend to be noticed by close friends and family first. If treatment is sought early, before more classic Parkinson's symptoms onset, the prognosis for the patient can be improved with early physical therapy and pharmaceutical treatment. Older adults should visit a doctor regularly for exams and any changes should be reported at the time of doctor visits.
In patients with Parkinson's disease, the brain is slowly damaged over time. Early symptoms of Parkinson's are often restricted to one side of the body, spreading to the other side later on in the progression of the disease. Abnormal movement, including stiffness, rigidity, shaky movements, twitching, or slow movements, can be a warning sign. Many patients develop bad or cramped handwriting as a result of Parkinson's.
Behavior changes are other early symptoms of Parkinson's. The patient may be fatigued, irritable, or depressed, and may behave in a way not familiar to family members. Sudden changes in behavior can be indicative of mental illness or the development of cognitive deficits and they are a cause for concern. Parkinson's also typically causes changes in facial expression, notably the development of a less expressive, mask-like face.
Early symptoms of Parkinson's can onset differently in different patients, an important issue to be aware of. Some patients may experience tremors early, while others will not, for example. One patient may develop very soft but perfectly intelligible speech, while another can have slurred or disordered speech. As the Parkinson's progresses, the symptoms will be more noticeable and more people should be able to observe them.
If the early symptoms of Parkinson's appear to be present, a patient can go to a neurologist for evaluation. The doctor can physically examine the patient, conduct an interview, talk with friends and family, and administer some tests to check on brain function and nerve conductivity. Information gathered during the exam will be used to learn what, if anything, is wrong with the patient, and to develop an appropriate treatment plan. In a patient who is reluctant to visit the doctor or who becomes combative, it is important to stay relaxed and calm while providing the patient with as much information as possible about the visit, with the goal of encouraging the patient to go and cooperate.