Parkinson's disease affects approximately 1 in every 500 people in the UK, which is about 127,000 individuals, according to Parkinson's UK. The majority of the people who are diagnosed with Parkinson's are over 50 years old. The condition is progressive, which means side effects usually worsen over time. The most common symptoms of the disease are muscle stiffness, tremors and slowness of movement. Exhaustion and muscle pain are other frequently experienced side effects of the disease.
One of the dangers that these symptoms pose is the increased risk of falls. While everyone's experience with Parkinson's is different, many people have difficulty with their balance.
What puts you at a greater risk of falls?
Falling is often not a serious concern for people with Parkinson's until few years after diagnosis when the condition tends to worsen. Parkinson's UK says that those with the illness are at a particularly high risk of experiencing falls when their condition is accompanied by dementia. Confusion and the inability to remember familiar places can lead to disorientation that results in falling. Other chronic conditions may require medications that induce drowsiness, which also makes falls more likely. Depression, arthritis, frailness and experience with previous falls contribute to an increased risk too.
Individuals with Parkinson's and one or more of these additional symptoms naturally tend to be extra cautious as they walk. The support of a carer may make daily tasks less challenging as the disease progresses.
One unique symptom of Parkinson's is the freezing of muscles during movement. Many people have difficulty starting to move or will experience sudden muscle inertness as they're moving. This can last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes. Parkinson's UK describes this side effect as feeling like your feet are stuck to the floor and that a sense of unsteadiness has suddenly made moving impossible. You should make sure that you're taking the proper dosage of medication, as freezing is a frequent problem when the effects of your prescribed medicine begin to wear off before you're due for your next dose. Talk to your carer and GP to ensure your prescribed medication and dosage are lessening these side effects.
Blood pressure problems can cause dizzy spells that lead to falls. Certain medications for Parkinson's increase the risk of these incidents. The ageing process in general can also result in blood pressure problems that make falling more likely, such as causing blood pressure levels to drop below where they should be. Talk to your GP if you're experiencing dizziness, especially when moving from a seated to standing position. Postural hypotension is a sudden drop in blood pressure levels that occurs when changing positions, such as getting in and out of a chair. It's a common side effect of Parkinson's and the drugs used to treat the disease. It can result in light headedness that throws off your balance.
Although it's less common than many other Parkinson's side effects, blurred vision is sometimes experienced. Some people have trouble moving their eyes, which is commonly caused by Parkinson's drugs like anticholinergics. It can also become challenging to accurately judge the space around you and determine the distance between certain objects. This inability to see clearly can increase your chances of tripping or falling.
"Being more aware of the way you walk can help lower your risk of falling."
How can you prevent falls?
Being more aware of the way you walk can help lower your risk of falling. For example, Parkinson's UK recommends taking longer strides and swinging your arms while you walk for enhanced balance. Counting each step, walking along certain patterns on the floor or humming in time with each step will get you into a rhythm when you walk. It's also common for physiotherapists to suggest walking with a metronome, a device that ticks to a certain beat. This helps people maintain a steady rhythm and keep their balance. Doctors also suggest metronomes for patients who frequently experience muscle freezing, as this tends to help them restart walking.
It can also help to turn corners or change direction slowly, as turning too quickly can cause you to lose your balance. Try taking a few extra steps in a half-circle motion as you turn. It can even help to imagine that your feet are following the numbers on a clock.
Before you move forward, shift your weight from one foot to the other and try to step backwards. If this causes your muscles to go inert, try rocking gently from side to side to get them moving again. As you do this, it's best to avoid distractions if you can so that you can concentrate. For example, avoid talking or listening to music and walking at the same time. If you need to say something, make sure to pause and grip something solid, such as a railing to ensure you don't fall.
At Gracewell care homes, our professional carers provide residents with the support they need to live a fulfilling life, including those living with conditions such as Parkinson's. To learn more about how we can help, contact us today.