As people age, there are a number of changes that occur or conditions that evolve that are often related to aging or are presumed to be inevitable changes caused by aging.  If a person is having trouble using an arm or experience changes in the way they walk, they may attribute this to arthritis.  If they are a bit more stooped over or take longer to move and do things they may feel this is related to ‘slowing’ with old age.  Challenges with falls or balance may be attributed to decreased physical activity and strength.  However, these occurrences may also be early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Nearly 1 million people in the US have Parkinson’s disease and approximately 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.  Most people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease are over 65 years of age though some people are diagnosed at younger ages, with about 5 to 10% of those with younger onset Parkinson’s diagnosed under the age of 40 according to the National Parkinson’s Foundation.

Parkinson’s disease was first identified in the early 1800s by Dr. James Parkinson, a British physician. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder that is related to a reduction of and/or damage to dopamine producing brain cells. Dopamine is a chemical essential to a number of brain functions, including the coordinated and smooth movement of the body. When there is a significant reduction in dopamine, the muscular movement becomes uncoordinated and slowed, shaking or tremors occur, postural instability or balance is affected and the body can become rigid.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease tend to be subtle and come on gradually with a person noticing a tremor or perhaps a change in their ability to perform a task as the first signs. They may notice their movement is slower or it takes longer for them to accomplish a task. Early on, these changes are more evident on one side of the body but eventually progress to affect the whole body.

The primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Resting tremors of the hands, arms, legs, face and jaw.
  • Stiffness or rigidity in the body’s trunk and limbs.
  • Balance impairment and difficulty with coordination.

For more information on diagnosis, additional signs and symptoms and treatment options for Parkinson’s disease please view our Issues on Aging newsletter on our website at