If You Notice This in Conversations, Get Checked for Parkinson's
Health experts want you to be aware of these speech-related symptoms of the disease.
Most of us speak to a number of different people every day. These conversations vary from person to person, of course, but there are certain constants in our speech that don't change—unless, of course, there's an underlying issue at play. If you find yourself noticing specific changes when talking that aren't just about the topic at hand, you might want to get checked for Parkinson's disease. According to experts, this brain disorder can impact speech, and there are particular symptoms to look for when you're speaking. Read on to learn what to watch out for during your next conversation.
There are a lot of symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease.
Parkinson's disease is a "progressive disorder that affects the nervous system," according to the Mayo Clinic. Signs of the condition may be wide-ranging, and they typically come on slowly over the years. Unfortunately, there's no clear checklist for Parkinson's symptoms, as they "can be different for everyone," and certain ones may be so mild in some people they they go unnoticed altogether.
One of the major symptoms associated with Parkinson's and often the first sign of the disease is a small and "barely noticeable tremor in just one hand," according to the Mayo Clinic. Tremors are common with Parkinson's, but other potential symptoms include slowed movement, rigid muscles, impaired posture and balance, loss of automatic movements, and writing changes.
Health experts are warning about another noticeable sign of Parkinson's.
While a broad spectrum of symptoms could be signs of Parkinson's, many can be seen in something we do every day: talk. According to Joseph Kennedy, MD, a doctor working with Consumer's Health Report, "associated speech problems" with Parkinson's disease include slurring words, mumbling, and the inability to complete thoughts. The health expert says these "conversational hiccups" can be a "big cause of concern" for those with the condition.
"Parkinson's affects motor speech skills, thus impairing your communication with these symptoms getting worse as the disease progresses," Kennedy explains.
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But some speech problems might show up earlier than others.
Wolfram Schwarz, MD, a doctor of medicine in Germany and co-founder of Meduni.com, said that many conversational symptoms of Parkinson's actually come after face, mouth, or throat movements are affected. "Parkinson's disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain known as the substantia nigra. Among the many effects this causes, the main one is the reduction of the hormone dopamine in the brain," Schwarz explains, noting that the lack of dopamine over time impacts the movement of face, mouth, and throat muscles—which then impact speaking and communication.
According to Schwarz, there are some conversational symptoms of Parkinson's that might be noticed as early signs of the disease. This "includes a lack of control over your voice tone, your voice problems affecting essential aspects of your life, having a 'frozen' face, speaking way slower or faster than ever before, even if you don't want to speak in that speed, and even problems swallowing both liquids and solids," he says.
Parkinson's affects nearly one million people in the U.S.
Parkinson's disease is the "second most common" neurodegenerative disease in the U.S., following behind Alzheimers disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Parkinson's Foundation reports that nearly one million people in the country are living with Parkinson's, and around 60,000 Americans are newly diagnosed every year. And these numbers are only expected to rise. According to the organization's Prevalence Project, it is estimated that 1.2 million people in the U.S. will be living with Parkinson's by 2030.
Deaths rates have also recently risen for the disorder. According to the CDC, the age-adjusted death rate for Parkinson's disease among those 65 years or older increased from 41.7 to 65.3 per 100,000 people. And a 2021 study published in Neurology revealed that as of 2019, the death rate from Parkinson's has risen a total of about 63 percent in the U.S.
"We know that people are living longer and the general population is getting older, but that doesn't fully explain the increase we saw in the death rate in people with Parkinson's," study author Wei Bao, MD, PhD, who conducted the research at the University of Iowa, said in a statement. "Understanding why more people are dying from this disease is critical if we are going to reverse the trend."