The elderly in the society that suffer from Parkinson’s disease face many challenges when trying to move around. The progressive disease affects the nervous system, and thus makes it impossible for the elderly adults to be comfortably mobile. The early symptoms that victimize the loved ones are barely noticeable as they progress on a gradual basis. Your elderly loved ones can show signs of fatigue from light activities, like walking and stretching, or even a noticeable tremor on one of their hands. The trauma could be masked and considered as related to old age when it is indeed just a masquerading Parkinson’s disease. Such light Parkinson’s tremors, if ignored, could lead to the seniors of the society experiencing slowed movement and stiffness, which is a perfect definition of Parkinson’s disease. Senior caregiver providers at assisted living facilities are trained to constantly monitor your elderly adults for any tremors, signs, or symptoms that would require medical attention.
The senior citizens experiencing the early onsets of Parkinson’s disease will display little to no facial gestures. The arms may not have their normal swing of motion during movements, and the loved one's tone of voice while addressing others will present itself as slurred or softened. If urgent care and attention for such Parkinson’s senior citizens does not avail itself soon enough, the symptoms may worsen with time. However, the lack of a cure for Parkinson’s disease is not the end of the road. The elderly seniors of society can still enjoy a fruitful life. The available medications for elderly care can enable significant improvements for elderly adults coping with the Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Please schedule an appointment with your healthcare professional to discuss the symptoms, condition of your health status, and to discuss how assisted living facilities near you may be the best option for you.
Parkinson’s Symptoms in Elderly Adults
As Parkinson’s disease is unpredictable and affects each person uniquely, each senior citizen member of society will experience different and unique symptoms. Thus, it is easy for the early signs of Parkinson’s to go unnoticed due to their mild nature. The symptoms may initially also only affect the left or right side of the body. The symptoms tend to worsen with time, and slowly victimize the unaffected parts and side of the body.
Please contact your healthcare professional if you observe any of the following changes with your elderly loved one’s health status:
Writing Changes: A simple task, like signing a document or even writing the date in their diary, will feel like an extreme fitness challenge. The loss of mobility and flexibility with hand movements is a considerable derailment that will contribute to smaller handwriting, than usual. Assisted living facilities that care for Parkinson’s patients will provide support to your elderly loved one with signing documents, guiding their hands and helping them write, or writing for them as dictated.
Speech Changes: The varying speech effects may include hesitation before talking, slur of language, or soft-speach when trying to address others. The elderly adult’s speech presentation will lack the usual speech inflections and will present itself as a monotone.
Loss of Automatic Movements: The senior citizen will find it difficult to trigger unconscious movements due to the loss of mobility. Simple acts like hand swings, smiling, and blinking may be limited and potentially no longer automatic.
Impaired Posture and Balance: The Parkinson’s disease knocks the seniors of the society off their feet. Your elderly loved one will start showing a stooped posture. Moreover, they will begin to find it challenging to find balance if left on their own and will be at a higher risk of falling. A standing and a sitting position will no longer be as easy as it seems.
Rigid Muscles: The elders may experience stiffed muscles on various body parts. It is easy to brush off muscle stiffness experienced by a loved one to a regular muscle pull. Such muscle stiffness is usually painful and limits how far a senior can go while trying to move around.
Bradykinesia or Slowed Movement: The long-term overall symptom for the elderly loved ones that are victims of Parkinson’s disease is slow movement. The elderly adult may become incredibly sluggish in all activities they used to enjoy and easily perform. From picking up a television remote to even eating with a plate and utensils, activities they have performed for decades will seem like a new and complicated venture to them. They will take more time to perform activities of daily living that they otherwise may have taken their ability to perform for granted, and will express difficulties with accomplishing such tasks. The seniors’ walking strides and speed will decline significantly. They will be more likely to drag their feet as they struggle to find their way around. Even getting up from a chair may prove to be a challenge.
Tremors: The onset of tremors related to Parkinson’s disease usually first affects the elderly adult’s hands or fingers. For example, be alert if your elderly adult frequently rubs their forefinger and thumb with a back-and-forth movement, more than they used to. The persistence of the shock also tends to continue when their hands are at rest.
The Lewy bodies start appearing: The Parkinson’s disease reveals microscopic markers within the brain cells resulting from clumped specific substances. Such clumps are scientifically defined as Lewy bodies. They are believed to be an important milestone that will lead researchers to pinpoint the origins of Parkinson’s disease.
The presence of Alpha-Synuclein within the Lewy bodies: The Lewy bodies constitute several substances. However, scientists believe that the alpha-synuclein or a-synuclein, which is a natural and widespread protein, to be the most critical entity. Its presence is in a clumped form within the Lewy bodies, and the body cells usually find it difficult to break it down. Currently, researchers depict this protein as a critical breakthrough that will weigh in on understanding Parkinson’s disease.
If, by any chance, you find yourself in such an environment where an elderly or senior citizen is experiencing such symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease, then a visit to a health care facility that caters to Parkinson’s patients is recommended. Their doctor will be able to diagnose their condition or rule out any assumption that might be related to a different disease.
Causes of Parkinson’s Disease in Seniors
To understand Parkinson’s disease, we will need to understand about the root causes behind its existence. The body of the senior loved ones with the disease will experience a gradual breakdown of brain neurons or nerve cells, potentially leading to a destruction of the same neurons or cells. Thus, losing such neurons becomes symptomatic as it resultantly leads to the loss of dopamine. Dopamine is the brain’s chemical messenger that translates to the mind when the body needs to initiate some level of mobility. When the levels of dopamine decrease, there are fewer dopamine chemical messengers to inform the brain when the body needs to move. The result is an abnormality in the brain activity due to the overworked dopamine, and thus yielding the Parkinson’s disease menace.
Researchers suggests that the elderly loved ones victimized by Parkinson’s disease experience some changes in their brain activities. They, however, cannot pinpoint the reason as to why it tends to happen. Although the onset of Parkinson’s disease is still unknown, it is considered to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Human Genes: Some researchers link the cause of Parkinson’s disease to specific genetic mutations. Such an outcome is only possible if some family members have had the disease and have passed down those genes to future generations.
The Environment: Some environmental factors or toxins can slowly lead to an increased likelihood of Parkinson’s disease in the elderly. Such environmental factors may include smoking, caffeine and coffee, excessive vigorous exercise, ibuprofen use, air pollutants, dietary containments, plasma urate, pesticide exposure, and traumatic brain injury. However, the severity of such factors concerning the infection of Parkinson’s disease is not as alarming as the latter point.
The technicalities involved in the exact reasons for why a particular elderly adult may be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and an understanding about how the disease affects the elderly depicts the complicated nature of the senior citizens' ailment. Let us consider some of the risk factors tied to Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s Disease Prevention for Elderly Adults
The mystery of the root cause of Parkinson’s Disease makes it challenging to find an effective cure for the illness. However, several researchers suggest that engaging in aerobic exercises is one way of reducing the risks associated with Parkinson’s. Another study implies that excessive use of the caffeine found in coca cola, coffee, and tea can also increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Exposure to Toxins. Some senior citizens may spend too much time exposed to pesticides and herbicides, and may digest dietary containments. These seniors are more likely to trigger or increase the potential of contracting Parkinson’s disease due to their environmental exposures.
Gender: When it comes to gender preference, the disease victimizes male seniors more than female.
Heredity: Parkinson’s has ancestral ties, and thus, if a senior citizen has close family blood ties with other family members who have Parkinson’s disease, then that loved one is at an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease onset. The risk factor is, however, minimal if the number of relatives with the illness is limited, unless the statistical occurrence of the disease in the family increases.
Age: Parkinson’s disease is usually not a risk factor to the youths of the society as it generally targets the elderly starting around the age of 60. The risk of contracting the disease increases with age as it starts to manifest itself during the years of middle or later life.
How to Deal With Parkinson’s Diagnosis in Seniors
A senior thought to be a victim of Parkinson's disease should schedule an early appointment with a certified neurologist to discuss the appropriate care options. The meeting will remove all possible doubts about the existence of Parkinson's disease. The presence of other conditions that are not Parkinson's disease may also convey a wrong narration of Parkinson's disease, when, indeed, it is another entity in play. Such familiar conditions to Parkinson's disease do exist, and if a misdiagnosis occurs, a loved one might find himself or herself on a wrong treatment plan. Alert your doctor to properly diagnose your elderly loved one if your elderly loved one indicates the following signs or symptoms which may resemble other conditions:
1. Lewy Body Dementia
The round protein structures are around the brain cells, and tend to displace and disrupt functional brain cells. Individuals diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia will exhibit cognitive impairment and hallucinations, in addition to Parkinsonism.
2. Vascular Parkinsonism
The elderly adults with Vascular Parkinsonism may face mobility issues, especially in the arms and legs, as a result of small instances of stroke.
3. Corticobasal Degeneration
Corticobasal degeneration is a condition that is prone to affect a victim's posture, balance, and speech. Thus, the individual will be moving around at a plodding pace. The progression of such an ailment will cause the limbs of the individual in question to be disabled wholly or severely.
4. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy
Progressive Supranuclear Palsy affects individuals who are older than 50, and its aggression is worse than that of Parkinson’s disease. The effects that follow include eye movement difficulties, the midsection of the body stiffens, falling, and imbalance. The familiarity of such symptoms should not be ignored, and it is therefore recommended to seek the opinion of certified medical professional for the proper diagnosis.
5. Multiple System Atrophy
Multiple System Atrophy is a rare and challenging ailment. The neurodegenerative disease characterizes with rapid progression of a variety of symptoms that affect autonomic functions, blood pressure, breathing ability, and balder control.
When to Consider Assisted Living Facilities for Parkinson’s Disease Care?
The occurrence of Parkinson’s disease weakens the body and immune system of the elderly, and as a result, propels the existence of additional health challenges. These changes may also take a toll on the elderly adult’s families and friends. Are you a caregiver to an elderly adult with Parkinson’s disease? Consider the following recommendations to help you avoid and address caregiver burnout and fatigue when providing care to a loved one with Parkinson’s, and to help you determine if a Parkinson’s assisted living facility may be the better option for your elderly loved one than to care for them at home:
- Emotional Support: The task of assisting a loved one with Parkinson’s disease through elderly care can be exhausting to an individual, and therefore keeping your emotions in check will go a long way. Consider finding someone to talk to about your struggles, challenges, and responsibilities to release the emotional storm that might be building up.
- Embrace Life: You should not consider hitting the pause button on your personal and professional life because of your caregiver engagements. This can result in severe burnout. Continue keeping your social life in check to maintain the energy level in your life so you do not embrace mixed resentful feelings.
- Consult the Elderly Loved Ones About Important Affairs: The inevitable ending of the Parkinson’s disease ailment should encourage everyone to discuss with their loved ones about their last wishes. Issues like a Do-Not-Resuscitate order, Advanced Directives, Living Wills, and the durability of a power of attorney should be considered. It is important to request your elderly loved one to consider these important life decisions while they still have the capacity to, so that their wishes may be taken into consideration, granted, and to help clear the tensions in the air during a later stage. Also, the activities related to Parkinson's disease care management should be inclusive of the sufferer’s participation. Do not take all decisions about your elderly loved one by yourself. By requesting their involvement in the decision-making process, and considering their wishes and desires, you will help them feel valued and appreciated.
- Educate Yourself About Your Elderly Loved One’s Health Status: Remaining informed about the latest evidence-based care practices, best Parkinson’s care facilities and information about the Parkinson’s disease will assist you to better care for your elderly loved one as their Parkinson’s disease progresses. This will also help you with your transition as you evolve from becoming their child to become their caregiver and guardian.
If you are finding challenges with these aspects, then consider whether you truly are the best caregiver for your elderly loved one. Make sure you do not subject your Parkinson’s senior loved one to any elder abuse or neglect without even intending to. Consider whether a transition into an assisted living facility that provides care for Parkinson’s patients may be most helpful for you and your elderly loved one with Parkinson’s disease.
How to Find the Best Assisted Living Facility for an Elderly Adult with Parkinson’s Disease?
It is also worth noting that the progressive nature of Parkinson’s disease is irreversible. As reluctant as your elderly loved one may be, it is important to consider when may be the right time for the transition into an assisted living facility.
Individuals with Parkinson’s disease confront an array of challenges. The behavioral adaptation of the disease is different each day. A senior citizen may be fully independent one day and not need assistance with performing daily routines. However, they may struggle the very next day with accomplishing the simplest personal care tasks that they otherwise may have taken their ability to perform for granted. If a caregiver is uninformed, then such a change of behavior as a result of Parkinson’s disease may result in considerations about whether the elderly adult is lazy, manipulative, or acting. Thus, the assisted living facility’s caregiver needs to be aware about the unpredictability of Parkinson’s disease. Some of the objectives to search for to identify whether the assisted living facility’s staff qualify to care for your elderly adult with Parkinson’s may include:
- Maintaining the elderly adults’ quality of life.
- Finding the necessary information concerning the ailments' symptoms, treatment, and progression of Parkinson’s in elderly adults.
- Ensuring that the elderly adults exercise, visits doctors, and receives the adequate medical care.
- Supporting the senior citizens with finding the strength to rise above Parkinson’s disease challenges.
Ensure that the assisted living facility’s caregivers understand the challenges your elderly adult endures with Parkinson’s disease and are skilled to provide the necessary assistance. Here are a few aspects to consider and to ask about to determine whether the senior caregivers collaborate with the elderly adult, the elderly adult’s family, and doctors to understand the reasons for the various personal health challenges and to create a strategy to best help the elderly:
Thinking Difficulties and Emotional Support.
Thinking Difficulties: The senior citizens of society are likely to experience dementia, some signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and cognitive challenges like the inability to think and make decisions effectively and efficiently. Such cognitive complications reveal themselves during the later stages of the health condition. Such complexities are challenging to treat as they do not necessarily swiftly respond to medications.
When we do not understand what our elderly loved one is thinking or requesting, we may be subjecting them to elderly neglect. However, as assisted living facility caregivers will understand what your elderly loved one is trying to express and communicate, your elderly loved one may feel more comfortable as their requests will be fulfilled.
These trained senior caregivers will also socialize with and accompany your elderly loved one so that they do not experience depression, senior isolation and loneliness due to communication barriers.
Emotional Changes and Depression: The early onset of Parkinson’s disease will affect the loved ones through depressive episodes. Taking the necessary steps to cope with depression will lessen the burden of dealing with the disease. Other combined symptoms that may also follow include loss of motivation, anxiety, and fear, but they are treatable through the care that will be provided at assisted living facilities to help your elderly loved one improve their quality of life.
Swallowing Challenges: The elderly adult with Parkinson’s will find it challenging to consume bodily fluids like saliva, which assist with lubricating the body for smooth digestion. The slowed swallowing process will lead to excessive drooling from elderly individuals due to accumulated saliva from the mouth. Assisted living facilities for Parkinson’s can monitor and help the elderly adults with swallowing challenges.
Eating and Chewing Concerns: An elderly during the late stages of Parkinson’s disease will have difficulties controlled their mouth muscles, and as a result, will be unable to chew their food correctly. The effects of these eating and chewing challenges will be poor nutrition and even choking.
The assisted living facility understands the texture and types of foods that are easiest to swallow, eat, and chew for elderly with Parkinson’s disease. An assisted living facility will prepare the meals accordingly, and will also be available to support with spoon-feeding elderly adults, if necessary.
Other Personal Health Factors.
Poor Sleeping Patterns: The seniors with Parkinson’s disease will have difficulties sleeping. Such patterns include sleeping at daytime instead of the night time, getting up earlier than usual, and frequently awakening at night. The seniors may also depict a sleep behavior disorder related to rapid eye movement, when their brain’s activity does not relax even when they are sleeping. Such issues are solvable by the assisted living facility’s caregivers’ understanding why the elderly adult may be experiencing challenges with sleeping patterns, and helping mitigate those concerns.
Bladder Problems: The seniors will find it difficult to urinate or to be able to hold urine. The assisted living facility’s caregivers will support with incontinence and bladder challenges and constipation.
Constipation: The elderly suffering from Parkinson’s disease will have a slower digestive tract, leading to the development of constipation cases.
Changes in Blood Pressure: The seniors will experience some levels of dizziness or lightheadedness when standing poise. A blood pressure drop may lead to orthostatic hypotension. The assisted living home’s caregivers will continuously monitor the elderly’s blood pressure and will alert the senior’s doctor if there are concerning blood pressure results.
Smell Dysfunction: The senior citizens will experience difficulties in distinguishing different smell and odors. The assisted living facility’s caregivers will stay alert to smell dyfunctions and understand that they may stem from more alarming causes.
Fatigue: Individuals with Parkinson’s disease tend to experience occasional fatigue. The caregivers in assisted living communities understand that fatigue is common for elderly with Parkinson’s disease. They will encourage the senior citizens to continue to exercise to maintain endurance and strength, while also supporting with activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living.
Muscle Pain: Muscle pain is common for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. They may experience muscle pain throughout their entire body or a specific body part. The caregiving staff at assisted living facilities will accompany the elderly to their doctor appointment to support with muscle pain.
Sexual Dysfunction: The seniors affected by the disease will have little or no desire for sexual encounters. As such, they must receive the proper health care to support with sexual dysfunction.
How to Communicate About the Transition into an Assisted Living Facility to a Loved One with Parkinson’s Disease?
Consider the following factors to help you effectively communicate with your elderly loved one about how an assisted living facility may be able to provide the best care for their Parkinson’s disease:
- Maintain a Face-To-Face Poise While Communicating. You will adequately understand the needs, emotional expressions, facial gestures, internal thoughts, and body language cues of the Parkinson’s Disease elderly adult if you lock eyes while addressing issues.
- Understand and Behave Accordingly: When Parkinson’s disease advances to maximum aggression, the affected individuals might not be in the best position to make sense of even a small sentence, and may react erratically. Thus, asking them questions that require a simple Yes or No answer will bridge the communication gap. You can even use labels to point to the preferred action or engagement that is relevant in the context.
- Be Patient and Repetitive in Your Communication Strategies: Repeating words several times will jog their memory and help better grasp the meaning of the words more effectively and efficiently.
- You Can Also Put Yourself in Their Shoes So You May Understand Their Perspective: Ask them to try to communicate their thoughts, try to understand what it may be like if suddenly your child becomes your caregiver and you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, help them understand that it is okay to speak slower than usual, and be patient enough to help guide them with expressing their thoughts.
By better understanding their concerns, you will be able to identify the best Parkinson’s care option together. Parkinson’s disease might affect the mental and physical health of the patient or elderly in question, so it is important you consider an assisted living facility as one of the options. In case assisted living is not feasible or isn’t the right choice for you, explore all home care options for Parkinson’s while also tending to your own health and personal life to avoid depression and caregiver burnout and fatigue.
About the Author:
"Parkinson’s Disease in Elderly & Assisted Living for Parkinson’s" is authored by Anisha Rao, MPP, Healthcare Consultant, Certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Healthcare Professional. Anisha holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Health Administration and Public Policy, a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and a Minor in Management of Aging Services. Anisha has extensive experience in Healthcare Services and Aging issues, including dementia care, assisted living, senior health, and nursing home care. Anisha is passionate about ensuring seniors receive the best care possible and empowering seniors to become more involved in their care planning decisions.