The National Institutes of Health reports that “Both men and women can have Parkinson’s disease (PD). However, the disease affects about 50 percent more men than women.”
Researchers aren’t entirely sure why there is such a difference in rates of the disease in men vs. women. There is some speculation that estrogen plays a role in providing a barrier to developing the disease. However, recent research shows that while women are less likely to get PD when they do, they face a tougher battle.
Parkinson’s Disease Facts
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disease that works by breaking down the nervous system, affecting patients by causing a lack of coordination, tremors, balance problems, and cognitive decline. While men begin with the physical symptoms of a slow gait or shuffle, women frequently start with a tremor on one side of their body.
A recent study found differences in the experiences of females and males with PD. An article from Considerable that profiles the study explains: “Women are more likely than men to be older, have the disease with greater severity, and deal with additional conditions related to the disease. However, women are also less likely to be treated by a neurologist—and their access to quality caregivers isn’t the same as their male counterparts.”
The study shows that men are far more likely to have a caregiver than women. This could be in part because more women with PD are widows or single, due to their age, whereas men report that their caregivers are usually a spouse or partner. Simply put, there is a lack of caregivers for women.
Getting the Necessary Care
What should women with Parkinson’s do to receive the quality care that they need and deserve?
Getting appropriate medical attention is the first step. Part of the challenge in getting early care for Parkinson’s is that the symptoms come on so gradually, many times, the patient doesn’t notice the subtle changes. Women may begin speaking softer, moving slower, or having trouble with small-motor tasks such as handwriting. These changes can be easily attributed to general aging symptoms, so they’re often not noticed.
There are no tests to determine a definitive Parkinson’s diagnosis in its early stages. Women over 60 must have routine doctor visits to address signs of aging and determine if they are normal or require more attention.
Parkinson’s Symptoms for Women
According to Healthline.com, common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Slow gait
- Stiffness in the body
- Loss of balance (which sometimes results in falls)
- Difficulty talking or swallowing
- Sleeping disturbances
- Urinary issues and constipation
Women dealing with Parkinson’s have different symptoms than men do. Healthline.com also shares, “There is some evidence that men and women are affected differently. For instance, men appear to retain a better ability to understand spatial orientation. Women, on the other hand, retain more verbal fluency. These types of skills are influenced not only by sex but also by the ‘side’ of PD symptoms. Left side or right side motor symptom onset reflects which side of the brain has the largest dopamine deficiency.”
Finding a Specialist
Another step that women dealing with Parkinson’s should take is working with a specialist as early as possible after diagnosis or when you notice more severe symptoms. Many of the studies on women and Parkinson’s—including the Parkinson’s Foundation’s own fact sheet—show that women do not get treated by specialists as frequently as men do. These specialists would include a Parkinson’s disease specialist, neurologist, or movement specialist.
The Parkinson’s Foundation says, “Research to date on women’s experience of PD underscores the need to focus more on this important part of the Parkinson’s community. Compared to men, women are diagnosed with PD less often, respond differently to current therapies, have less access to and lower use of expert care, and are less socially supported. These combine so that women with PD have a poorer quality of life than men. Studies that specifically address these issues are needed to improve the lives of all people affected by Parkinson’s.”
How to Help Women with PD
The quality of life of female patients should be a top priority as you navigate the next steps in caring for yourself or a loved one with Parkinson’s. Talk to your doctor or a medical professional and seek outside resources from trusted organizations that research and follow Parkinson’s disease developments. Some of the most reputable organizations to follow include The Parkinson’s Foundation and The American Parkinson’s Disease Association.