Similar to other progressive diseases, Parkinson’s disease is categorized into different stages. Each stage explains the development of the disease and the symptoms a patient is experiencing. These stages increase in number as the disease increases in severity. The most commonly used staging system is called the Hoehn and Yahr system. It focuses almost entirely on motor symptoms.
People with Parkinson’s disease experience the disorder in different ways. Symptoms can range from mild to debilitating. Some individuals may transition smoothly between the five stages of the disease, while others may skip stages entirely. Some patients will spend years in Stage One with very few symptoms. Others may experience a faster progression to the end stages.
The initial phase of Parkinson’s disease typically presents with mild symptoms. Some patients will not even detect their symptoms in the earliest phases of this stage. Typical motor symptoms experienced in Stage One include tremors and shaking limbs. Family members and friends may begin to notice other symptoms including tremor, poor posture, and mask face or loss of facial expression.
Once the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are affecting both sides of the body, you have progressed to Stage Two. You may begin having trouble walking and maintaining your balance while standing. You may also begin noticing increasing difficulty with performing once-easy physical tasks, such as cleaning, dressing, or bathing. Still, most patients in this stage lead normal lives with little interference from the disease.
During this stage of the disease, you may begin taking medication. The most common first treatment for Parkinson’s disease is dopamine agonists. This medication activates dopamine receptors, which make the neurotransmitters move more easily.
The third stage is considered moderate Parkinson’s disease. In this stage, you’ll experience obvious difficulty with walking, standing, and other physical movements. The symptoms can interfere with daily life. You’re more likely to fall, and your physical movements become much more difficult. However, most patients at this stage are still able to maintain independence and need little outside assistance.
Stage Four Parkinson’s disease is often called advanced Parkinson’s disease. People in this stage experience severe and debilitating symptoms. Motor symptoms, such as rigidity and bradykinesia, are visible and difficult to overcome. Most people in Stage Four aren’t able to live alone. They need the assistance of a caregiver or home health aide to perform normal tasks.
The final stage of Parkinson’s disease is the most severe. You may not be able to perform any physical movements without assistance. For that reason, you must live with a caregiver or in a facility that can provide one-on-one care.
Quality of life declines rapidly in the final stages of Parkinson’s disease. In addition to advanced motor symptoms, you may also begin experiencing greater speaking and memory issues, such as Parkinson’s disease dementia. Incontinence issues become more common, and frequent infections may require hospital care. At this point, treatments and medicines provide little to no relief.
Whether you or a loved on is in the earliest or the later stages of Parkinson’s disease, remember that the disease isn’t fatal. Of course, older individuals with advanced-stage Parkinson’s disease may experience complications of the disease that can be deadly. These complications include infections, pneumonia, falls, and choking. With proper treatment, however, patients with Parkinson’s can live as long as those without the disease.