BY SARAH OWENS
Tremor, stiffness, slowness, and impaired balance—these movement-related symptoms are the hallmarks of Parkinson's disease. But they aren't the only ones. In fact, many symptoms of the disease are less visible and unrelated to movement. They include depression, anxiety, apathy, hallucinations, cognitive changes, constipation, sleeping problems, and sexual dysfunction.
Since many patients are unaware of these symptoms, they often go untreated. A new campaign by the Parkinson's Foundation—#MoreThanMotor—aims to change that by raising awareness of non-motor symptoms and encouraging patients to discuss and treat them.
Thinking Outside Motor
"In Parkinson's disease, many symptoms—loss of smell, acting out dreams, constipation, depression, and more—show up long before the onset of motor dysfunction," says Michael Okun, MD, FAAN, medical director of the Parkinson's Foundation, a merger of the National Parkinson's Foundation and the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.
As a result, he says, doctors and caregivers should be on the lookout for these symptoms, and doctors should consider Parkinson's when trying to diagnose unexplained changes in mood, loss of sex drive, sleep problems, or constipation in their patients.
#MoreThanMotor also wants to challenge the traditional view that Parkinson's "is an old person's disease," Dr. Okun says. "It's true that Parkinson's gets more common as you age, but we see the disease in teenagers and in people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s." The disease can be missed in younger patients because the symptoms are often quite different, he says. "A lot of the neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, are more common in younger patients." The disease also affects women, even though it is predominant in men, Dr. Okun adds. It's important to look out for, and treat, both motor and non-motor symptoms in all these patients.
Talk to Your Doctor
If you have Parkinson's disease and are experiencing changes in mood, such as depression and anxiety, or other, non-motor symptoms, don't wait. Talk with your doctor about ways to treat them, Dr. Okun says. Many treatments, including medications, psychotherapy, and lifestyle modifications can help.
"If you have depression, anxiety, apathy, sleeping problems, or sexual dysfunction, and you have Parkinson's disease or you think you do, talk to your doctor," Dr. Okun says. "Ask him or her what's new in treatments [for non-motor symptoms]—there have been a lot of clinical trials lately—and what the tried-and-true techniques are that can help."
Help Raise Awareness
The Parkinson's Foundation is organizing a social media "thunderclap" to promote the campaign. On April 25, all users who've signed up to participate in the thunderclap will automatically post the following message on their Facebook, Twitter, and/or Tumblr account:
#Parkinsons is #MoreThanMotor! Join me to raise awareness of the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's: http://thndr.me/d8hJK
Join Neurology Now in participating in the thunderclap, and help raise awareness of Parkinson's non-motor symptoms, here: bit.ly/NN-PF-Thunderclap.