While sluggish movement and tremors are common in old age, they are also typical symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
The wife of one of my patients told me that she noticed her husband's left arm did not swing like his right arm while he was walking. (For balance, we normally swing both of our arms while walking.)
After a series of examinations, her husband was diagnosed with the disease.
Of course, not all slowness of movement or trembling is due to this disease. However, if these symptoms are unilateral or if the slowness is due to a loss of cognitive ability - like when you come upon a flight of stairs and you have no idea what to do next, then you have to be cautious.
The four main clinical features of Parkinson's disease are tremors, rigidity, gait problems and slowness of movement (bradykinesia).
Pill-rolling tremors of the hands, stooped postures and facial masking are also typical symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is still no cure for this disease. But treatments to alleviate some of the symptoms are available, so early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to improving the patient's quality of life.
Nowadays, the most commonly used medication to treat symptoms is Levodopa. And for the more serious cases, surgery may be the only hope. But there is still the potential for serious side effects with these treatments.
Traditional Chinese medicine has a role to play in alleviating the symptoms and reducing the side effects of the above-mentioned treatments.
Apart from motor symptoms, patients may also develop some non- motor symptoms, such as insomnia, daytime fatigue, constipation, difficulty in swallowing, depression, anxiety or visual or olfactory dysfunction. Based on the observed symptoms and the patient's physical condition, we can give them both herbal medicine and acupuncture therapy.
In traditional Chinese medicine, an emphasis is placed on three areas.
The first one is the blood and qi level. Most patients of Parkinson's disease suffer from fatigue. As they cannot control their body posture and movement very well they need to use more energy to do so. This often leaves them feeling tired or even exhausted. By enhancing their blood and qi level, they can become more energetic.
The second is to maintain liver and kidney functions. In traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys are in charge of the bones.
The liver, meanwhile, is in charge of the tendons that connect muscles and bones. Together they form the fundamentals of our body movements.
The third is to improve patients' blood circulation. Since they have movement difficulties, their muscles contract and relax less frequently compared with others. This causes the blood to flow more slowly and may easily block the blood vessels.
By combining Chinese and Western treatments, many patients can still experience a good quality of life.
Therefore, early diagnosis and treatment are very important for both patients and their families.
Wong Pui-man is a registered Chinese medicine practitioner with a Bachelor of Chinese Medicine degree from the Hong Kong Baptist University. www.facebook.com/ CandyWongAcupuncture