When people talk about Parkinson’s disease, the image that most often comes to mind is of an elderly person who shakes and has trouble moving. And, in the later stages of Parkinson’s, this is often true. Bradykinesia (a medical term for slowed movement) and tremor (the shaking that can be so prominent in Parkinson’s) are two of the most important symptoms of the disease.
But research over the last 15 years has begun to shed light on some of the changes and symptoms that happen much earlier in the disease, sometimes long before the changes in movement that most people associate with Parkinson’s. So what are these early warning signs that you might be at increased risk of developing Parkinson’s? Here are four of the most common ones.
1. Loss of sense of smell
2. Restless nights
There is a connection between changes in sleep patterns called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behaviour disorder and the risk of developing Parkinson’s. REM sleep behaviour disorder, or RBD for short, is more than simply experiencing a restless night. People with RBD act out their dreams, sometimes moving violently in their sleep, to the extent that they can even injure themselves, but with often no recollection of their actions.
Problems with digestion and bowel movements are a big problem for people with Parkinson’s, and we now know that these problems can start long before the tremor and problems with movement that lead to someone being referred to a neurologist.
4. Anxiety and depression
It is important to remember that there lots of reasons why any one, or combination, of these changes might happen. And even if you have all of them, it does not mean that you will certainly develop Parkinson’s. But there is good evidence that most people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s have experienced some or all of these.
Patrick Lewis is an associate professor in cellular and molecular neuroscience at the University of Reading. Alastair Noyce is a clinical senior lecturer in preventive neurology at Queen Mary University of London.