Nearly 1 million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease, the nervous system disorder that disrupts body movement. Each year, more than 50,000 people in the country are diagnosed with the progressive motor condition that mainly affects older adults but can occur at any age.
Parkinson’s disease gradually attacks nerve cells in the brain’s mid-portion, decreasing the production of dopamine, a biochemical that helps carry electrical signals to control body motion and emotional responses. Initial symptoms often present with muscle weakness, stiffness, or a slight shaking in a hand or foot. As Parkinson’s advances, a person may experience muscle rigidity, tremors, postural imbalance, gait changes and decreased facial expression.
Presently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, and the exact cause is still unknown. A thorough neurological exam will help rule out similar medical conditions, secondary parkinsonism and Parkinson's plus syndromes. To manage the movement disorder, the following care and support approaches may help:
- Encourage independence. Many Parkinson’s patients can carry out regular daily functions — they just need more time to complete them. Staying active with an in-motion body is key to combating the muscle constraints of Parkinson’s.
- Stay flexible as the disease fluctuates. Throughout each day, Parkinson’s symptoms can vary as medication takes effect and the person regulates diet, activity and rest. Sometimes Parkinson’s is unpredictable, and caregivers help most by choosing to adapt to symptoms as they occur instead of expecting the patient to follow a regimented schedule.
- Determine reasonable limits. It’s best for the Parkinson’s patient and caregivers to discuss activities and lifestyle changes upfront and adjust as needed. For example, lifting heavy objects can throw off balance and cause a fall. Climbing a number of steps or a ladder is not advisable. The key is to keep active without taking on tasks that aggravate symptoms or increase risk for injury.
- Keep an eye on the emotional downside. Discouragement, anxiety, depression and apathy are common with Parkinson’s patients. The off-kilter brain messaging and physical challenges can throw off the body’s ability to stay emotionally level. Mood changes may result from the disease-fighting medications or from the personal loss of a body that does not always cooperate. A caregiver’s patience and active listening are invaluable to Parkinson’s individuals in weathering their emotions. Meeting with a psychotherapist can also help with the ongoing adjustments to the neurological disease.
On Dec. 8, the national office of Right at Home is hosting a free webinar, “Understanding Parkinson’s: Tips for Disease Management,” featuring Becky Dunlop, Associate Director and Instructor of Neurology at a National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence. Dunlop has worked with Parkinson’s disease patients for more than 20 years and will explain the differences between idiopathic Parkinson’s disease and parkinsonism; the motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s; and pharmacological, surgical and allied team treatments of Parkinson’s disease. Designed for health professionals and family caregivers, the webinar will be held at 3 p.m. EST, 2 p.m. CST, 1 p.m. MST and noon PST. To register for the webinar, click here.
For additional information on Parkinson’s disease resources, contact the National Parkinson Foundation at parkinson.org or 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636), and the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation at pdf.org or 800-457-6676.
What support and care tips do you recommend for Parkinson’s disease caregivers?