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Is Parkinson’s a Disability?

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A senior man standing near a window with a sad look on his face.

Living with Parkinson’s disease can present many challenges. From motor symptoms like tremors and stiffness to non-motor symptoms such as depression and cognitive difficulties, Parkinson’s can affect various aspects of daily life. 

One question that often arises is whether Parkinson’s is considered a disability. Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that can lead to disability in the advanced stages. 

Requirements during these stages can include specialized services or memory care in senior communities to help guide loved ones through their day-to-day lives. 

Understanding Disability

Disability is a broad term including physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental impairments that may limit a person’s ability to engage in everyday activities or interact with the world. These limitations can be temporary or permanent and can vary in severity.

A disability can affect a person’s:

  • Vision
  • Movement
  • Thinking
  • Memory
  • Learning
  • Communication
  • Hearing
  • Mental health
  • Social relationships

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that affects movement, leading to uncontrolled and unintended movements. It results when nerve cells (neurons) in the brain that control movement become impaired or die. 

These nerve cells produce a brain chemical you’ve probably heard of, dopamine. Less dopamine can cause movement problems associated with Parkinson’s disease. Signs and symptoms may be picked up on by family members or friends, who are often the first to notice the changes in a loved one with early Parkinson’s disease. These symptoms generally develop slowly but can worsen and progress over time. 


A senior man sitting on a couch and doing a puzzle, holding his left wrist with his right hand as he places a puzzle piece down.

With Parkinson’s disease, a tremor is the rhythmic shaking that usually begins in the hand or fingers. It can occur more when you’re at rest and may decrease when performing tasks. Tremors can progress into the arms, legs, jaw, or head. 

Slow Movements

Also known as bradykinesia, these slowed movements in Parkinson’s can make simple tasks difficult and take longer. Examples include taking shorter steps when walking, difficulty getting out of a chair, or dragging and shuffling feet. 

Rigid Muscles 

Rigid or stiff muscles can occur anywhere in the body with pain and a limited range of motion.

Impaired Posture & Balance

With Parkinson’s disease, posture may become stooped, and the risk of falls and balance problems can increase.

Loss of Automatic Movement

Parkinson’s disease can affect unconscious movements such as blinking, smiling, or swinging your arms when you walk.

Changes in Speech

Changes in speech can include speaking softly or quickly, slurring or hesitating, and having a monotone speech pattern.  

Changes in Writing

Writing can become small and more difficult to do. 

Parkinson’s is not just limited to motor symptoms. Many individuals with Parkinson’s also experience non-motor symptoms like:

  • Depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty swallowing, chewing, and speaking
  • Urinary problems or constipation
  • Skin problems

Risk Factors for Parkinson’s Disease

The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is still unknown. However, genetic and environmental factors can play a role in its development. Potential risk factors include:

  • Age: The risk of Parkinson’s disease increases with age, usually around 60 and over.
  • Hereditary: Your risk of developing Parkinson’s increases if a family member has the condition. 
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to certain toxins, such as pesticides and herbicides, has been associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s.

The Impact of Parkinson’s as a Disability

As a progressive disorder, the disabilities associated with the condition can significantly impact a person’s daily life. Simple tasks like dressing, preparing meals, or walking can become challenging. 

Also, many people with Parkinson’s disease may develop dementia. However, the time frame from the onset of symptoms to a dementia diagnosis can vary in individuals. During these advanced stages, loved ones may require assistance with activities of daily living, which is a leading reason to transition to memory care. 

Diagnosis & Treatment for Parkinson’s

There is no definitive test to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. A healthcare professional typically makes a diagnosis based on characteristic motor symptoms and a thorough look at medical history. Sometimes, they may do a neurological examination to rule out other conditions.

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, various treatments aim to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. These can include:

  • Medications: Several medications can help alleviate motor symptoms by increasing dopamine levels in the brain or helping with non-motor symptoms. 
  • Therapy: These can include physical, occupational, and speech therapy. 
  • Exercise: Exercise can help improve mobility, balance, coordination, and muscle strength.
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS): For individuals who don’t respond to medication.

Living with Parkinson’s Disease

Because of physical and emotional challenges, living with Parkinson’s disease can be stressful and demanding for loved ones and their families. It’s essential to seek support from communities that can provide individualized care and services in a safe and warm environment. 

Improving Quality of Life for Loved Ones with Parkinson’s

While everyone’s journey with Parkinson’s is unique, disease progression can lead to disabilities. With the right support and care, your loved ones with Parkinson’s can continue to lead fulfilling, quality lives. 

As a family member or friend of a loved one with Parkinson’s, contact Fox Trail Memory Care or schedule a visit to learn more about our memory care program and how we can support them. 

Ryan Donahue

Written by Ryan Donahue, Regional Vice President

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