A mother diagnosed with Parkinson’s at 44 has shared her surprising symptoms of the disease.
Donna Marshall, of Tunbridge Wells in Kent, has young-onset Parkinson’s and began suffering unusual symptoms in her mid-20s.
The mother-of-one, who is now 54, claimed one of the first symptoms she endured was a loss of taste and smell — a lesser-known warning sign of the disease.
She also claimed to have become a compulsive shopper, a behavioural change that is seen in some patients. The businesswoman said the disease even led her to spend thousands on an extravagant Halloween display.
Parkinson’s, which usually occurs among the over-50s, is more commonly known for creating problems such shaking, slow movement and stiffness.
Donna Marshall, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, has young-onset Parkinson’s and began experiencing lesser-known signs of the disease at just 26-years-old
Ms Marshall (pictured with her daughter Beau) who wasn’t diagnosed until a decade ago, said her symptoms even led her to spend thousands on an extravagant Halloween display
A loss of smell and taste were the first symptoms Ms Marshall noticed, nearly two decades before she was diagnosed.
She said: ‘The sense of smell went first of all, I was about 26.
‘I didn’t think very much of it, and with that you get a lack of taste in food.’
A reduction of smell, medically known as anosmia, is experienced by up to 95 per cent of people with the disease and is often the first sign of the illness.
Shaking, another tell-tale symptom, didn’t appear until Ms Marshall was on a walk on New Year’s Eve 16 years later.
She said: ‘I was walking along the beach on the Isle of White.
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‘I looked down at my hand it and it was shaking, I wondered why that was. Obviously now I know, it was Parkinson’s.’
Around 18,000 Brits and 90,000 Americans are diagnosed every year, with charities estimating that one in 37 people alive today will be diagnosed in their lifetime.
The disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in part of the brain called the substantia nigra, which causes a drop of dopamine in the brain.
This messenger hormone plays a vital role in regulating movement in the body, hence the drop can cause characteristic tremor symptoms.
Those with young-onset Parkinson’s tend to experience a slower progression of the disease over time and suffer less cognitive symptoms, such as dementia.
However, they may suffer more physical symptoms and side effects from medication.
One of the least known impacts of Parkinson’s is compulsive behaviours, such as addictive gambling, binge eating and excessive shopping.
It is linked to changes in the body’s dopamine levels and can be a side effect of the medication taken to combat the disease.
Ms Marshall said that she’s met a number of people since being diagnosed that also struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
She said: ‘There’s the gambling addiction, the shopping addiction and the sexual addiction, and none of it is very fun.’
The OCD that Ms Marshall suffers from came into full force last Halloween, when she decided to turn her garden into a haunted attraction.
A loss of smell and taste were the first symptoms Ms Marshall noticed, nearly two decades before she was diagnosed
Shaking, another tell-tale symptom, didn’t appear until Ms Marshall (pictured with her partner Keith Madgett) was on a walk on New Year’s Eve 16 years later
Ms Marshall (pictured with her daughter Beau) claims that an intolerance to stimulants, such as caffeine, beer and sugar, is another of the many symptoms of the disease
Ms Marshall (pictured with partner Keith) said her main advice for other people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s at a young age is to try and find others suffering from the disease to talk to
Ms Marshall said: ‘Normally people would just put a pumpkin out. I went the full hog.
‘I spent thousands of pounds on professional dancers, I converted the front garden into a huge, great big graveyard.
‘It was fantastic, all the kids loved it, but I didn’t need to go that far and that’s what it [OCD] does unfortunately.’
But Ms Marshall says dystonia — repetitive muscle twitching, spasming or cramping that can be painful and last hours — is the symptom that drastically affects her life.
Ms Marshall said: ‘The worst part of having Parkinson’s for me is the dystonia because my foot cramps up and then my back cramps up.
What is Parkinson’s ?
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative condition. The illness effects the nerve cells in the brain that control movement.
Over time the symptoms gradually get worse. It can cause symptoms related to movement as well as pain, depression and loss of smell.
Most people who get Parkinson’s are over 60, but one in ten are under 50 and it affects more men than women.
What causes the symptoms?
Nerve cells in the brain send messages to the rest of out body to control our movements. This is done using chemicals called neurotransmitters.
An area of the brain called the substantia nigra produces one of the neurotransmitters that controls movement: dopamine. But in 70 to 80 per cent of people with Parkinson’s these dopamine producing cells deteriorate and die.
The loss of dopamine-producing neurons results in low levels of dopamine in the part of the brain that controls movement and balance.
Source: Parkinson’s Europe
‘I can’t walk at all, I can’t even put one foot in front of the other. The hardest thing for me is not being able to follow a normal lifestyle.
‘So just a normal everyday things that you would normally do is is difficult for someone with Parkinson’s.
‘Just walking up the stairs, just making a cup of tea, feeding yourself, all those things.’
Ms Marshall tries to make sure her own daughter, Beau, aged nine, does not see the debilitating side of the disease.
She said: ‘I wake up early and take my pills on the sofa watching TV until I’m ready for business as normal.’
Her mother, Margaret, also suffered from Parkinson’s.
Margaret died aged 80, after she was left in a vegetative state for the final six years of her life.
Ms Marshall said: ‘They fed her through a feeding tube, which looking back at it is the worst thing that could have happened to her.
‘She remained alive only through medical intervention, and then the decision to take that tube away sat on us as a family, which is just the worst thing anyone had to do.’
Ms Marshall underwent deep brain stimulation surgery last week, which includes the placement of a device in her brain that targets certain areas.
The hope is that the device will ease the pain of some of her symptoms, including Dystonia.
Her main advice for other people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s at a young age is to try and find others suffering from the disease to talk to.
She said: ‘There’s lots of people on Facebook, there’s lots of advice out there,
‘I think the best thing I did was connecting with people like me, who have young onset Parkinson’s, because it’s a different animal to when you’re older, it manifests itself in a different way.’