Parkinson’s disease symptoms: The sign in your handwriting to watch out for

Parkinson’s disease is caused by loss of nerve cells in part of the brain called the substantia nigra, which leads to a reduction in a chemical called dopamine in the brain.

Dopamine plays a vital role regulating the movement of the body so a loss of this chemical can cause movement problems.

As the condition progresses, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can get worse and it can become increasingly difficult to carry out everyday activities without help so it is important to recognise the early warning signs to maintain quality of life for as long as possible.

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One early warning is handwriting changes and people with Parkinson’s tend to find it harder to write and their writing may appear smaller.

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, small, cramped handwriting is called micrographia and in addition to words being generally small and crowded together, the size of handwriting might get smaller as you continue to write.

As the health body explained: “Micrographia is caused by the same processes in the brain that lead to other movement symptoms of the disease.

In addition, those symptoms – slowness of movement, tremor, rigidity – can all make it harder to write, says the health site.

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How to manage the symptom

As Parkinson’s Foundation explains, medications to control movement symptoms may slightly improve micrographia and you should try employing the following strategies:

  • Practice! Write one page every day.
  • Use a weighted pen or a pen with a thick grip.
  • Use lined paper.
  • Sit upright in a comfortable chair, and write on a table.
  • Write during “on” time when medication is working best.
  • Take breaks as needed.

It added: “If writing becomes too difficult for you or too hard to read, try typing. If motor control makes that too hard, also, try dictation software.”

How to slow down symptoms

If the condition is diagnosed in the early stages, lifestyle interventions can be taken to slow the progression of the condition.

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Exercise plays a key role in helping people with Parkinson’s to manage and delay their symptoms and a study published JAMA Neurology sheds a light on the type of exercise.

According to the research led by Northwestern Medicine and University of Denver scientists, high-intensity exercise three times a week is safe for individuals with early-stage Parkinson’s disease and decreases worsening of motor symptoms.

As the report notes, it previously had been thought high-intensity exercise was too physically stressful for individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

The randomised clinical trial included 128 participants ages 40 to 80 years old from Northwestern University, Rush University Medical Center, the University of Colorado and the University of Pittsburgh.

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Participants enrolled in the Study in Parkinson Disease of Exercise (SPARX) were at an early stage of the disease and not taking Parkinson’s medication, ensuring the results of the study were related to the exercise and not affected by medication.

The participants were divided into three groups, with participants engaging in high intensity exercise, moderate exercise and no exercise respectively. The high intensity exercise group’s symptoms did not worsen compared to the moderate exercise group and those not exercising at all.

“If you have Parkinson’s disease and you want to delay the progression of your symptoms, you should exercise three times a week with your heart rate between 80 to 85 percent maximum. It is that simple,” said co-lead author Daniel Corcos, professor of physical therapy and human movement sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

He continued: “We gave them a proper workout. This is not mild stretching. This is high intensity. It’s part of the idea that exercise is medicine.”

Commenting on the findings, Dr. Codrin Lungu, program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said: “Several lines of evidence point to a beneficial effect of exercise in Parkinson’s disease.

“Nevertheless, it’s not clear which kind of exercise is most effective. The SPARX trial tries to rigorously address this issue. The results are interesting and warrant further exploration of the optimal exercise regimes for Parkinson’s.”

According to Parkinson’s Foundation, to help manage symptoms of Parkinson’s, you should incorporate the following types of physical activity into your fitness plan:

  • Flexibility (stretching) exercises
  • Aerobic activity
  • Resistance training or strengthening exercises

It added: “These elements are included in many types of exercise. Biking, running, Tai chi, yoga, Pilates, dance, weight training, non-contact boxing, qi gong and more — all have positive effects on PD symptoms.”

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