Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the brain cells that produce dopamine. When the brain cannot produce enough dopamine, a variety of symptoms can appear and progress over time.
The Parkinson’s Foundation has identified 10 early signs of Parkinson’s that include:
- Tremor: a slight shaking or tremor that generally starts with a finger, hand or chin.
- Small handwriting: a change in handwriting with cramped letters.
- Loss of Smell: not able to smell bananas, dill pickles or licorice.
- Trouble Sleeping: sudden movements during sleep, like thrashing around.
- Trouble Moving or Walking: Stiffness in the body, arms or legs that does not go away as you move. Feeling stuck to the floor.
- See all 10 signs now.
What do you do if you or a loved one is experiencing several signs? Talk to your doctor about seeing a movement disorder specialist (a neurologist with specialized training).
Research shows that African Americans with Parkinson’s are less likely to see neurologists. However, working with a Parkinson’s specialist is key to receiving the best treatment from someone who is familiar with PD medications and symptom management.
Living Well with Parkinson’s
When it comes to Parkinson’s, the age of diagnosis, progression and symptoms are unique to every person. Motor (movement) symptoms include issues with balance, tremors, and limb stiffness. While non-motor (non-movement) symptoms include anxiety, sleep disorders, depression, and others.
Research shows that people with PD in the African American community are more likely to interpret symptoms as normal signs of aging and therefore, under-report symptoms. Compared to white people with PD, Black people are also less likely to be diagnosed with PD. This may be due to biological differences, but it may also be because African Americans with Parkinson’s are greatly underrepresented in the healthcare system.
“The perception is that Parkinson’s is not a common occurrence in African Americans and that leads to the underdiagnosis of patients with Parkinson’s among African Americans,” said Reversa Joseph, MD, during the Parkinson’s Foundation podcast episode “PD Across Race & Ethnicity.” “When diagnosed, it is occurring later in the course of the disease, and African Americans tend to have worse outcomes, in terms of disability, because of the late diagnosis. We still have a way to go in terms of improving awareness of PD in the African American community.”
While there is no cure, people living with Parkinson’s can experience active lives. Medications and various treatment options often help. There are also many resources available, such as the Parkinson’s Foundation Newly Diagnosed kit.
“Find someone that they can talk to, whether it’s another person with Parkinson’s, family member or friend – just don’t become isolated,” said Phil, a Parkinson’s Foundation advocate living with Parkinson’s. “My involvement with the Parkinson’s Foundation has focused on key opportunities such as increasing the education and knowledge level of under-represented populations relating to PD symptoms, available resources and clinical trials.” Read Phil’s story.
Participating in Research
Parkinson’s research leads to breakthroughs in treatments and improved care, and ultimately a cure. Historically, minorities are underrepresented in PD research due to limited research recruitment efforts, financial burdens and feelings of mistrust towards researchers and physicians.
Diversity in PD clinical trials is critical because research advances our understanding of how the disease and treatments specifically affects the Black community.
The Parkinson’s Foundation is dedicated to diversity in research. Those with a Parkinson’s diagnosis can enroll in PD GENEration: Mapping the Future of Parkinson’s Disease and receive genetic testing for Parkinson’s-related genes and genetic counseling at no cost.
The Parkinson’s Foundation is here for everyone living with and caring for someone with Parkinson’s disease. For more information visit Parkinson.org or call the Helpline at 1-800-4PF-INFO (1-800-473-4636).