Small Handwriting and Other Early Signs of Parkinson’s
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurological movement disorder that, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), affects as many as 500,000 people in the United States.
PD starts with the brain cells, called neurons, which control movement. Neurons produce a substance called dopamine. PD sets in when the neurons die and the levels of dopamine in the brain decrease. The lack of dopamine is thought to result in the symptoms that affect the way you move.
Early signs of Parkinson’s disease can be easy to miss sometimes, especially if they occur sporadically. However, it may be time to see a doctor if you notice recurrent symptoms.
A sudden change in the size of your handwriting may be an early indicator of Parkinson’s disease. People with PD have a hard time controlling movement because of the changes in the brain. This can make fine motor skills like writing more difficult.
Micrographia is the medical term for “small handwriting.” Parkinson’s patients often have handwriting that looks cramped. Individual letters tend to be smaller than normal, and words are spaced closely. In some cases, a person with PD may start writing a letter in their regular handwriting, but gradually begin writing in smaller font.
Tremor is perhaps the most recognizable sign of Parkinson’s disease. A slight twitching or shaking of a finger, hand, or foot is common. The sufferer is likely to be the only person who notices mild tremors in early stages of PD.
However, the shaking will worsen and become noticeable to others as the condition progresses.
Everybody has trouble sleeping sometimes. However, tossing and turning takes on a new meaning when you’ve got Parkinson’s.
Early signs of the disease can include many uncontrollable movements, not just occasionally, but on a regular basis. Kicking, thrashing, flailing your arms, and even falling out of bed could indicate a serious problem.
Stiff and Slow
Parkinson’s disease affects mainly adults older than 60. At this stage of your life, you probably feel stiff and a little slow to get going most mornings. For many healthy people, this is completely normal. The difference is that the stiffness and slowness caused by PD doesn’t go away as you get up and start your day.
Stiffness of the limbs (called rigidity) and moving slowly (called bradykinesia) appear early on with PD. These symptoms are caused by the impairment of the neurons that control movement. With Parkinson’s, the patient will notice jerkier motions and move in a more uncoordinated pattern than before.
Parkinson’s disease affects movement in different ways, including how you speak. You might be familiar with the slurred speech of advanced PD patients. Less dramatic voice changes can occur in early stages of the disease.
Your enunciation will most likely remain crystal clear at this point, but you’ll unintentionally be speaking more quietly. People in early stages of PD often speak in low tones, a hoarse voice, or with little inflection.
Parkinson’s can affect the natural facial expressions in addition to gross motor skills. People often comment that some individuals with PD will have a blank stare.
This phenomenon, called masking, is a common sign of early PD. The disease can make movement and control of small muscles in the face difficult. Patients will have a very serious look on their face even when the conversation is lighthearted and lively. People with PD often blink less often too.
The wide, uncontrolled, involuntary movements of Parkinson’s disease don’t happen overnight. Posture will change in small ways at first, and will gradually worsen.
A stooped posture that can also be described as leaning and slouching is an early indicator of PD. This way of holding oneself has to do with the loss of coordination and balance that has already affected ones body.
Although back injuries can cause stooping too, patients with eventually straighten up again after a period of healing. People with PD often don’t ever regain that skill.
Voicing Your Concerns
Parkinson’s disease is a serious and chronic condition. PD treatment is significantly more successful when the disease is caught in its earliest stages. Unfortunately, many of the early signs mimic symptoms of other medical conditions, making diagnosis difficult.
You know your body better than anyone else. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your physical movement or behavior, or if something doesn’t feel right.
- National Parkinson Foundation - 10 Early Warning Signs of Parkinson's Disease . (2013). National Parkinson Foundation - Home . Retrieved August 7, 2013, from http://www.parkinson.org/Parkinson-s-Disease/PD-101/10-Early-Warning-Signs-of-Parkinson-s-Disease
- Micrographia. (2013). Northwestern University Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center. Retrieved August 7, 2013, from http://www.parkinsons.northwestern.edu/pdf/Fact%20Sheet-MICROGRAPHIA.pdf
- NIHSeniorHealth: Parkinson's Disease - Symptoms and Diagnosis. (2012). NIHSeniorHealth Home Page. Retrieved August 7, 2013, from http://nihseniorhealth.gov/parkinsonsdisease/symptomsanddiagnosis/01.html
- Parkinson's disease: Symptoms - MayoClinic.com. (2012). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 7, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/parkinsons-disease/DS00295/DSECTION=symptoms
- The Parkinson’s Mailbag - Parkinson's Disease Foundation (PDF). (2003). Parkinson's Disease Foundation (PDF) - Hope through Research, Education and Advocacy. Retrieved August 7, 2013, from http://www.pdf.org/en/spring03_Mailbag