When her right hand started trembling uncontrollably, the 68-year-old woman began to fear that she was developing Parkinson’s Disease, the progressive disorder of the nervous system that plagued Mohammed Ali and led actor Michael J. Fox to create a foundation that is working toward a cure for the degenerative disease.

But she may have gotten ahead of herself.

An article recently printed on grandparents.com addresses the problem of shaky hands and the possibility of Parkinson’s disease.

“There are many causes of tremor and Parkinson’s disease is only one,” explains Nikolaus McFarland assistant professor of neurology and chief of the Movement Disorders Division of the University of Florida College of Medicine. “Indeed one of the first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may be tremor, but there are many other key features to look out for. To diagnose Parkinson’s disease we typically look for a constellation of symptoms including rest tremor, rigidity (or stiffness), slowed movement, and postural instability. Patients may have some or all of these features, making the diagnosis tricky at times.”

The disease affects about one million Americans and usually strikes people who are older than 60. It develops gradually and is a breakdown of vital brain nerve cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is important for normal brain function, including movement, learning, and emotion. Disruption of signals in the brain are what leads to involuntary tremors.

While your doctor should definitely check out a tremor, you may not be facing Parkinson’s Disease unless you also have some of the following:

Common Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Postural Instability: People with Parkinson’s Disease have trouble standing up straight or maintaining their balance. A small push can send them tumbling. A stooped posture is common along with a slow, shuffling gait.

Change in Speech: Commonly people with Parkinson’s Disease experience a change in the tone of their voice. It typically gets softer and becomes more monotone, McFarland says. You may not notice it yourself, but if your family members are saying, “Speak up!” or your friends ask you to repeat yourself, that may be an indicator that you’re voice’s timbre has changed.

Change in Handwriting: Is your handwriting becoming small and illegible? You may be developing what is called micrographia. Dr. McFarland says that movements in general slow and become small, including handwriting. You may notice your handwriting trailing off the page, getting smaller and smaller, and harder to read.

A Shuffling Gait: If you have trouble walking, or your steps have become more of a shuffle than a walk, that’s could be a symptom of Parkinson’s Disease. Some patients experience what doctors call “freezing.” “These are rigid spells where a person gets frozen in place,” McFarland says. “You turn or get to a threshold and get frozen in place, feeling like you can’t possibly take another step. You need some cue, be it a sound, tactile, or visual (like a laser line to step over), to get moving again.”


For more information, visit Partnersinparkinsons.org