In preparation for World Parkinson’s Day on 11 April, Dr Angel Duncan, Clinician, Neuropsychiatric Research, Center of SWFL & Executive Director, Cognitive Dynamics, and Dr Monica Kurtis, Neurologist, Movement Disorders Specialist, Clinical Researcher, Neurology Department, Hospital Ruber Internacional, discussed on a Google Hangout, how to recognize and act on Parkinson’s disease (PD) symptoms as well as its challenges, and the patient-caregiver connection.
“There are four major motor symptoms of PD,” explained Kurtis. “They are the rest tremor (tremor when not using the hand, leg or chin), slowness (bradykinesia), stiffness (rigidity), and balance problems.”
There are approximately 30 nonmotor symptoms of PD, including depression, constipation, and difficulty falling asleep, that are currently recognized. As these symptoms are not visible, it is often difficult for physicians to diagnose PD until after other conditions are eliminated, which in turn, often delays accurate diagnosis.
There are other challenges in reaching a diagnosis of PD, including lack of reliable testing procedures. “Unfortunately, there are currently no laboratory, blood, or imaging tests that can diagnose PD,” said Kurtis. “In a person with PD, an MRI, CT, and blood test will come back normal.”
“Physicians can, however, use brain imaging to rule out ‘imitators’ of Parkinson’s disease, such as a tumor in a certain area of the brain,” she added.
The early and accurate diagnosis of PD is the first step toward optimal patient management and treatment. Because a diagnosis of PD is often delayed, Monica Kurtis was asked what some of the issues and challenges are as a result of delays.
“The main issue is that a delay can hinder proper treatment. Patients can go for months or even years without a proper diagnosis. Recognizing the symptoms is something we have to teach doctors who are not neurologists, especially primary care physicians who are normally the first persons to see the patient.”
The session concluded with a question directed to Angel Duncan about the challenges that go along with patient-caregiver engagement and connection as well as patient well-being.
“One of the most important things is that patients and caregivers are able to communicate effectively,” explained Duncan. “Talking with each other about the disease and respecting each other’s autonomy.” In addition, I often find that people tend to take on the identity of PD. It is essential that they don’t allow the disease to become their identity.”
“It’s also important that patients and caregivers engage in activities involving some positivity and humor,” added Duncan. Doing something enjoyable can put a smile on a face even through the tears.”
Duncan emphasized that patients with PD can possibly find empowerment through creative activities such as art, music and dance. She noted that it was possible to reclaim some level of self through these creative activities.
Both Duncan and Kurtis collaborated with GE Healthcare on the development of the MIND App. Designed for Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers, but also for patients affected by other neurological disorders (such as Alzheimer’s disease, essential tremor, stroke), this free iPad app provides patients and caregivers with art, dance, and music activities they can enjoy together. Click here to download the MIND app.