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If Your Handwriting Looks Like This, It Could Be an Early Sign of Parkinson's

A certain shift in your penmanship might mean you should talk with your doctor.

Your handwriting today probably looks quite different than it did when you were practicing your script in elementary school or when you first started signing your name. It's expected for your handwriting to evolve over time, but doctors say you should keep an eye on your penmanship as you age since a certain kind of shift could be one of the earliest signs of Parkinson's disease. To see what kind of change in handwriting signals you should talk to your doctor, read on.

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Particularly small handwriting can be an early sign of Parkinson's disease.

Older person writing on paper

If you notice your handwriting has gotten smaller and more cramped, it could be an early sign of Parkinson's. Tiny, crowded handwriting, also known as micrographia, is frequently one of the early symptoms of the disease, according to the Parkinson's Foundation.

Parkinson's affects the brain in a way that can lead to "movements are that slower and smaller than normal," James Beck, PhD, the Parkinson Foundation's Chief Scientific Officer told Best Life. So, considering it requires movement, the handwriting of a person with Parkinson's will likely begin to shrink and slow as well.

Physician Chris Airey, MD, medical director at Optimale, confirms that "a sudden change to small handwriting can be a sign that a person is beginning to find it difficult to control the movement of their hand and exercise fine motor skills such as writing."

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If your handwriting gets smaller along with other common early symptoms, it could be Parkinson's.

A young woman walking in the park while holding a water bottle.

Though a change in handwriting could be due to something else, Beck says there are a handful of other early signs of Parkinson's to look out for, including constipation, a diminished sense of smell, and reduced arm swing when walking. "A common Parkinson's disease symptom is stiffness," said Beck. "This will usually be described as a sore shoulder. The joint is fine, but the muscles, due to the disease, are very rigid and can be painful to move." Physically active people may also notice their coordination is reduced while engaging with things they used to be good at, such as golf or tennis.

According to Airey, other common early signs of Parkinson's include "shuffling gait, tremors in your hands or legs, and sleeping issues such as insomnia or sleep apnea."

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There are ways to work with your smaller handwriting.

Left-handed man writing in notebook
clu / iStock

If you notice your handwriting has shrunk, of course you should talk to your doctor about it. And if you are in fact dealing with micrographia brought on by Parkinson's, Beck says there are medications that can help control movement symptoms that may help slightly.

There are also a handful of exercises you can do to help make writing more comfortable for you and clearer for readers. The Parkinson's Foundation suggests practicing writing bigger on one page a day, using lined paper, taking breaks, and sitting upright at a table—these are all small things that could help your micrographia.

You can also work with an occupational therapist who can provide specific activities to help you with your handwriting.

If your handwriting changes, be sure to adjust your signature on important documents.

Older person writing on paper

If your handwriting begins to get smaller, there's a good chance your signature may change as well—and it's important to document the shift, the Parkinson's Foundation notes. "When it comes to legal documents—from financial documents to advanced directives and planned giving—have your lawyer prepare several formal witnessed and notarized affidavits which you sign at different points during the day to document the changes in your signature," suggests the foundation. Having this can be helpful down the line if your signatures aren't matching up.

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