What is facial masking in Parkinson’s disease? Our face is often the barometer of our emotions: when we are happy, we smile, and when we are sad or unhappy, we frown or scowl.
Facial expression is an important part of body language and human beings are genetically programmed to make an assessment of a situation based on the clues we pick up from people’s faces, which is why it can be very disconcerting when a person loses their ability to register emotions.
There are more than forty-three muscles in the human face. These muscles allow us to produce a wide range of facial expressions, from laughter and smiles, to grimaces and frowns.
Even tiny changes in our facial muscles can give rise to very subtle changes in expression. A loss of movement in the facial muscles can occur for a variety of reasons.
Strokes can cause paralysis down one side of the face and injuries can lead to nerve damage.
Even cosmetic procedures such as Botox injections can paralyze certain muscles around the eyes and mouth, causing the strange mask-like expression we sometimes see on famous celebrities.
However, unlike the short term effects of Botox, facial masking in Parkinson’s disease is one of the symptoms of a loss of motor control.
Facial masking does not affect all Parkinson’s patients, but when it does occur, the person’s face becomes far less expressive than it once was and they gradually develop a blank mask-like demeanor that is not necessarily representative of what they are actually feeling.
Unless other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are evident, it is very easy to assume that a person with no facial expressions is bored or disinterested.
Their blank expression might not fit with what they are saying, which can affect social relationships in a very negative way as humans tend to rely on non-verbal clues to help us decide whether a person is being truthful or if they are to be trusted.
A person affected by Parkinson’s facial masking is also more likely to be perceived as depressed or unhappy since the face of a happy person normally shows lots of movement to match up with positive body language.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder affecting the central nervous system. The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are caused by a loss of dopamine producing nerve cells in the substantia nigra part of the brain.
Once these cells start dying, dopamine levels begin to fall and the nerve cells in the brain lose their ability to send messages instructing the muscles to work properly.
The loss of muscle function is a slow and gradual process. Different parts of the body can be affected by the progressive deterioration caused by Parkinson’s disease and some people find that one side of the body is affected more than the other.
Facial masking in Parkinson’s occurs when the disease affects the nerves connected to our facial muscles, and over time, nerve signals are unable to reach the muscles and they cease functioning.