Parkinson’s disease is described as a progressive disease of the nervous system, typically marked by muscular rigidity, tremors, and slow, inaccurate movement. It mainly affects middle-aged and elderly people and is associated with a degeneration of the basal ganglia of the brain, and a deficiency of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter. While the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease is twice as high in men, women have a much higher mortality rate and a faster progression rate than men. So, how does a Parkinson’s diagnosis impact women differently than men?
For starters, let’s talk about symptoms
Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, which means the symptoms worsen as time passes. The average age for a Parkinson’s diagnosis is around 70 years old, though some research suggests that women may be diagnosed later than men.
Typically, the first symptom to appear for women is a tremor in the hand associated with a deterioration of motor functions. In men, the first symptom to present is typically a change in posture, which can include falling or freezing up.
However, there can also be non-motor symptoms, which also affect women differently than men. A 2012 study of over 950 people with Parkinson’s showed women tended to experience pain, depression, fatigue, and constipation, while men experienced daytime tiredness, sexual dysfunction, and drooling. Because of symptoms like depression and pain, women also reported less satisfaction with their quality of life.
What are the treatment options?
While there is no known cure for Parkinson’s, symptoms can be managed with medication. In some cases, other treatment options may be available—such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) or brain surgery. However, as with symptoms, treatment differs between men and women.
Noting that difference, the Parkinson’s Foundation has created a comprehensive agenda describing the action that must be taken to assist women who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Alarmingly, the foundation found that women were often reluctant to share their symptoms due to the sensitive nature of the symptoms (mental health issues, for example) and therefore did not receive treatment for them.
Early intervention and treatment can help to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and may even slow its progression. Support groups are available for those impacted. Knowing how Parkinson’s affects women differently than men can help you recognize symptoms faster if they appear in yourself or a loved one.