Varsity Team

This article is a guest post by Rebecca Evans of GeriatricNursing.org. As we approach Older American’s month, we thought it was an appropriate time to discuss one of the most challenging diseases that an aging adult might face – Parkinson’s. We thank Rebecca for her input and we hope you enjoy the piece!

I can hear you wondering: How is it hard to diagnose Parkinson’s Disease? After all, aren’t the characteristic symptoms rather distinctive?

Well…yes and no, unfortunately.

Yes, Parkinson’s disease symptoms are rather distinctive (for the most part, anyway; there are a few diseases and drug reactions that can mirror Parkinson’s symptoms)…but they take time to develop. In the early stages of the disease, in fact, it can be incredibly hard to diagnose.

After all, there are no precise tests for Parkinson’s. As often as not, it is mistaken in its early stages for another disease—which in turn delays appropriate treatment.

Most common diagnosis difficulties

For instance, there’s data that actually suggests that as many as 25% of Parkinson’s patients are misdiagnosed. That is, they may be receiving treatment for Parkinson’s, and not actually have Parkinson’s, or they may be receiving treatment for something else, and actually have Parkinson’s disease.

A big part of this goes back to the fact that there is no precise test for Parkinson’s, and different diagnosing doctors treat different indicators differently. For instance, some of the most common tests given to potential Parkinson’s patients are CT scans, blood tests, urine samples, and more. None of these tests are definitive, however (remember, no precise test?), and so it is up to the doctors reviewing these tests to decide what to make of them.

For some doctors, inconclusive test results may cause them to lean toward a Parkinson’s diagnosis. For other doctors, those same inconclusive results may cause them to lean away.

So what are more accurate predictor tests?

In particular, because Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder, you probably want systematic neurological assessments to play a role in your diagnosis. For instance, neurologists familiar with Parkinson’s will know to test your reflexes, balance, muscular strength and responsiveness, among other things. Additionally, it is not uncommon for a neurologist looking at the possibility of Parkinson’s to say they aren’t yet sure, and want to run more tests, or want to run more tests in the future to see if your symptoms develop further. Parkinson’s is not an easy diagnosis to make, and as such, neurologists familiar with the disease will likely not rush into such a diagnosis.

Similarly, there are a whole range of neurological disorders that can present many of the same symptoms as Parkinson’s, and as a result, a neurologist may want to be careful to eliminate or rule out some of those other neurological disorders.

As a general rule, the more careful your neurologist is in testing you, the more thorough they are, the more comfortable you can be in their diagnosis.

Please do note, however, that you can always get a second opinion from a neurologist you trust if you don’t feel comfortable with your original neurologist.

Why is appropriate and early diagnosis so important?

Quite simply, because it is the key to better treatment. When earlier caught, treatment can begin earlier, and adjustments can be made to help preserve independence and a high quality of life. This might mean developing an early exercise routine that works, finding the pharmaceutical regimen that gives best results, and determining what level of physical therapy works best for you and your current symptoms.

What diseases are most often confused with Parkinson’s disease?

In particular, if you suspect you or a loved one may have Parkinson’s disease, these are some of the other diseases that may regularly be confused with Parkinson’s, and so you will want your neurologist to rule them out in testing:

Benign essential tremor
Brain tumor
Huntington’s disease
Multiple sclerosis
Multiple system atrophy
Striato-Nigral degeneration
Supranuclear palsy

Other diseases may also be confused with Parkinson’s, obviously, but the above list is some of the most common.

So ask your neurologist to be thorough. It’s more important that you are appropriately diagnosed, so you can get the care you need, than you are diagnosed quickly.

Multiple Sclerosis – An infographic by GeriatricNursing.org