WHAT IS YOUNG ONSET PARKINSON’S DISEASE (YOPD)?

When someone who is 21-40 years old receives a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, it is referred to as “young onset” Parkinson’s disease. Although most symptoms are the same at whatever age PD develops, managing the disease can be particularly challenging for a younger person and the person’s family   medically, psychologically and socially.

WHAT ARE THE PRIMARY MOTOR SYMPTOMS OF PARKINSON’S DISEASE?

  • Tremor (when limb is at rest)
  • Bradykinesia (slowness)
  • Rigidity (stiffness)
  • Postural instability (balance problems)

It is important to know that not all of these symptoms must be present for a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease to be considered. In fact, younger people may only notice one or two of these motor symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease. Finally, not everyone with PD has a tremor, nor is a tremor proof positive of Parkinson’s. If you suspect PD, see a neurologist or movement disorders specialist.

OTHER POTENTIAL MOTOR SYMPTOMS

The cardinal signs listed above often contribute to an overall muscle rigidity and/or slowness, which can present in different people in different ways and may include:

  • Decreased arm swing when walking
  • Dystonia: unusual and painful muscle contractions in the foot, ankle, shoulder (may lead physician to consider conditions such as bursitis or carpel tunnel, especially in a younger person)
  • Fatigue: a particularly difficult symptom for younger people who may be trying to juggle the demands of family, career, etc.
  • Masked face: restriction of facial expression causing person to look angry, depressed, or uninterested
  • Slow or soft speech: may be noticeable to friends or family but not to the person with PD
  • Decline in fine motor skills: difficulty with using utensils, buttoning clothes, etc.
  • Micrographia: small, cramped handwriting
  • Freezing: Temporary, involuntary inability to move

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE NON-MOTOR SYMPTOMS?

MOOD CHANGES

These are some of the most common non-motor symptoms of PD and may predate motor symptoms by several years. They are particularly challenging symptoms for young people and families because they can decrease or eliminate the motivation to seek or accept help.

COGNITIVE ISSUES

People with young onset PD may notice changes in the way they retain and/or process information. Many young people report they are unable to manage as many tasks simultaneously as they once were. Changes in cognition often set off alarm bells; however, memory problems are not necessarily equated with dementia. Cognitive issues related to PD may include:

  • Executive functioning (i.e., difficulty multi-tasking)
  • Slowed cognitive speed
  • Memory
  • Dementia

BEHAVIORAL CHANGES

These symptoms often manifest as obsessive-compulsive behavior such as excessive shopping, gambling, hyper-sexuality, or binge eating. It is important for the person with Parkinson’s and the family to be aware of these potential symptoms as they can have devastating consequences. If behavior changes like these should occur, the physician should be notified.

SLEEP DIFFICULTIES

Some experts estimate that as many as 90% of people with PD have experienced some form of sleep disorder. In some cases, these predate motor symptoms by a number of years. Parkinson’s medications can cause sleeping difficulties (either too much or too little) as can the disease itself. Inadequate sleep can exacerbate symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, or cognitive difficulties; the very symptoms younger people need to control in order to continue working and/or taking care of a home and children.

AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM DYSFUNCTION

An interruption in the automatic regulation of involuntary body processes can result in a variety of symptoms:

  • Constipation and/or urinary frequency: these should be taken seriously and can usually be treated effectively.
  • Blood pressure changes: usually dizziness upon standing
  • Temperature regulation: feeling very cold or warm, despite normal room temperature; excessive sweating
  • Sexual dysfunction

NEURO-OPTHALMOLOGICAL

Neurological changes can produce ophthalmologic abnormalities such as:

  • Double vision and/or blurry vision
  • Decreased blink rate
  • Irritation of the eye surface/difficulties opening the eye-lids

SENSORY PROBLEMS

It is not uncommon for people with Parkinson’s disease to experience sensations such as:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Burning
  • Pain

 

The information above came from, and more information is available at: http://www.youngparkinsons.org .

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