The National Institutes of Health reports that “Both men and women can have Parkinson’s disease (PD). However, the disease affects about 50% 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 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.com 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 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 that many times, the patient doesn’t notice the subtle changes.
Women might 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.
Women dealing with Parkinson’s also have different symptoms than men do. Healthline.com reports “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.”
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 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.
Kaylynn Evans, MSM-HC, LNHA, CADDT, CDDM is executive director at Vineyard Bluffton. vineyardbluffton.com