If You Always Say This to Your Partner, Get Checked for Parkinson's, Experts Say
This common communication problem is a red flag for PD patients.
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that can affect your motor abilities over time. And while symptoms can become severe for some patients later in the course of the illness, they typically begin only as subtle signs that something is amiss. For some, this may mean a minor tremor in one hand, or some uncharacteristic stiffness on one side of the body. But for others, the first sign is even harder to spot—and therefore often overlooked.
For this reason, it's essential to know the signs of Parkinson's—especially those that tend to fly under a patient's radar. Experts say that this one thing you may say to your partner could tip you off to a problem if it happens frequently. Read on to find out which phrase is a red flag.
If you accuse your partner of being hard of hearing, get checked for Parkinson's.
If you've long suspected that your partner is hard of hearing but they don't seem to have trouble hearing other people, it may be time to get checked for Parkinson's, experts say. According to the Mayo Clinic, speech changes are common in PD patients, and they often begin to speak more softly as the disease progresses.
This is the result of "hypokinetic dysarthria, a speech disorder that causes rigidity and slowness of the systems of communication including breathing, swallowing, voice and speech," says the health organization Parkinson Canada. Their experts note that because many patients don't notice the change in their own voice, they frequently attribute this communication challenge to their partner losing their hearing.
You may notice these vocal changes, too.
Besides speaking quietly, individuals with Parkinson's often experience a range of other vocal changes. These may include speaking with a hoarse voice, speaking in monotone, a vocal tremor, changes in the rate of speech, decreased articulation or slurring, and more.
Experts say that this particular symptom often presents as the first sign of Parkinson's. "Emerging evidence suggests voice dysfunction is the earliest sign of motor impairment in Parkinson's disease (PD). The complexity and fine motor control involved in vocalization may result in dysfunction here before the limbs," says a study published in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience. This often contributes to the symptom being overlooked until other symptoms emerge.
Look out for these other symptoms of Parkinson's disease, too.
Though vocal changes can be among the first symptoms to appear, it's crucial to recognize the other symptoms which may corroborate a PD diagnosis. The most common PD symptom is tremor—rhythmic shaking in the limbs which occurs when that body part is at rest. Additionally, those with Parkinson's typically experience other motor difficulties, the Mayo Clinic explains. These frequently include rigid muscles, impaired posture or balance, decreased automatic movements, and slowed movements. Finally, some PD patients notice changes in their handwriting and other fine motor skills.
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Here's what to do if you suspect a problem.
Though reaching out to your usual medical care provider is a good first step, you will likely need to pursue a specialized evaluation from a speech language pathologist who is familiar with hypokinetic dysarthria. Parkinson Canada also notes that it may be helpful to meet with an ear, nose, and throat specialist for vocal symptoms, and a neurologist or motor disorder specialist to address any broader concerns.
While there is currently no cure for Parkinson's that can reverse the course of the illness, several medications and lifestyle interventions can greatly improve patients' quality of life. A timely diagnosis is key to getting a treatment plan in place, and that begins with knowing the signs.