SINGAPORE: As the Republic faces an ageing population, the number of Parkinson's disease cases is expected to increase.
Recently, it was revealed that the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had developed the neurological disorder three years ago. In her eulogy at a private ceremony for Mr Lee, his daughter, Ms Lee Wei Ling, said the condition severely limited his mobility and he was plagued by bouts of hiccups.
ONE PATIENT’S EXPERIENCE
In 2010, Madam Wang Look Tsui was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The 61-year-old retiree had been experiencing weakness on the left side of her body.
She said: "Even handling very minor tasks like lifting up a jug of water, as long as it is with my left hand, I would struggle a little. Gradually, I struggled with even washing my hair, buttoning my clothes, wearing my shoes. The tremors were very obvious."
Madam Wang is currently on medication to manage her symptoms. She also attends physiotherapy classes run by the Parkinson Society Singapore.
The Society estimates that some 4,000 people suffer from the disease in Singapore. It affects about three in every 1,000 seniors, aged 50 years and above. From 2013 to 2015, the Parkinson Centre has seen the number of clients grow from 250, to 700.
SYMPTOMS AND STAGES OF PARKINSON’S
The most common symptoms of Parkinson’s are uncontrollable shaking of the limbs, stiffness and difficulty in walking.
The severity of symptoms for Parkinson's is sometimes classified into five stages. Stage one is the mildest form, where unusual symptoms may occur but they do not interfere with daily activities. In stage two and three, tremors and stiffness may become more noticeable, and loss of balance can occur.
It is usually in stage three that falls are most common. It is in stage four and five that Parkinson's patients may lose their independence. They may have to rely on a walker or wheelchair, or in the more severe cases, are not able to live by themselves.
Poor coordination can also lead to swallowing difficulties. Neurologists said this affects between 45 and 95 per cent of patients.
Dr Lee Kim En, a neurologist at Lee Kim En Neurology, said: "When they have this difficulty, they often choke. And so food can go into the lungs, or food may even come up through the nose. And when they choke and have all these swallowing difficulties, the next thing that can sometimes come along with it would be coughing, hiccupping. And these are all not unexpected in Parkinson's patients."
Swallowing difficulties can also cause other complications such as pneumonia and malnutrition.
While there is no cure, the disease can be managed through medication and lifestyle changes, such as exercise.
Ms Julie Lau, the president of the Parkinson Society Singapore, said: "The general feeling is that when you tell somebody they have Parkinson's, it is like you have given the person a life sentence. It is like the end of the world for the person. But it is not true. If the person keeps a very positive mind with proper medication, they can actually manage and look after themselves pretty well."
The Society hopes to do more to raise public awareness of the disease, along with marking World Parkinson’s Day on Apr 11.