Living Well with Parkinson’s Disease
There are many ways to cope with a chronic condition
By Lisa M. Petsche, Staff Writer

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive disorder involving damage to nerve cells in the brain that control muscle movement. According to the National Parkinson Foundation, 1.5 million Americans currently have the disease and approximately 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. The majority of cases develop after age 60.

The main symptoms of Parkinson’s are shaking or tremors, slow movements, rigidity and balance problems. Other symptoms include low energy, loss of coordination, loss of facial expression, difficulty initiating or continuing movement (“freezing”), stooped posture, a shuffling walk, decreased speech volume and depression. Early symptoms are subtle and might be difficult to detect.

While no cure exists, medications that alleviate the symptoms are available. In cases where medication doesn’t work, surgery may be considered. Lifestyle modifications are an important part of any treatment plan.

Upon diagnosis of a degenerative condition such as Parkinson’s, patients typically experience shock or disbelief. Once they accept the reality of the disease, they can focus on taking control of their situation. If you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, here are ways to empower yourself.

Mental Well-Being

  • Learn all you can about Parkinson’s and educate others.
  • Allow yourself plenty of time to adjust to your situation.
  • Find role models: people who are living well with PD, from whom you can draw inspiration.
  • Accept that how you feel and what you can do will fluctuate, so be flexible with plans.
  • Be open to learning new ways of doing things.
  • Keep a positive attitude. Concentrate on what you can do rather than what you can’t. Don’t let your disease define you.
  • Enjoy life’s many simple pleasures.
  • Stay connected to people who care. Let them know how you wish to be treated and keep the lines of communication open.
  • Find an outlet for expressing your thoughts and feelings. Consider attending a support group.
  • See your primary physician if you continually feel sad, angry, overwhelmed or unmotivated.
  • Set aside quiet time each day to nurture your spirituality.
  • Do things that provide you with meaning and purpose, such as helping others.
  • Turn to your faith for comfort. Pray for the strength to face challenges with courage and grace.

Tips for Daily Living

Because Parkinson’s is incurable, the goal, from a medical perspective, is to achieve the highest possible level of functioning and prevent or minimize complications. The following strategies can help:

  • Find a neurologist whom you respect and trust who has expertise in Parkinson’s.
  • Follow the prescribed management plan, which might include medication, diet changes, exercise, rest, adaptive aids, stress management techniques and regular check-ups.
  • Because treatment (especially medication dosing and scheduling) is individualized, it may involve trial and error, so be patient.
  • Join an exercise class for people with Parkinson’s. To locate one in your area, call the American Parkinson Disease Association at 1-800-223-2732 or go to www.apdaparkinson.org.
  • Use a cane or walker when recommended to minimize the risk of falls. If mobility issues prevent you from getting around in the community, rent or buy a scooter or wheelchair.
  • Set up a record-keeping system to organize your health information. Ready-made products can be found at bookstores.
  • Do as much for yourself as possible. Set priorities, simplify tasks and learn to settle for less than perfection.
  • Find substitutes for enjoyable activities you can no longer engage in. Just don’t overdo it.
  • Make your home as safe as possible.
  • Accept offers of help and ask for assistance as needed.