Does your loved one have Parkinson’s disease (PD)? According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly one million people in the United States suffer from PD, and the number is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2030.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive disorder that affects the entire nervous system. It often begins as a hand tremor or stiffness in one part of the body. Eventually, symptoms begin to worsen, leading to difficulty walking and loss of balance. Although the disease has no cure, there are medications to manage the symptoms. In some cases, surgery may be recommended to regulate certain affected areas of the brain.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Symptoms are not cookie-cutter with PD. Generally, symptoms start out as mild and progress with time. Typical symptoms include:
- Slowed movement
- Rigid muscles
- Impaired posture or balance
- Loss of automatic movement
- Speech changes
- Writing changes
It’s important to consult a doctor if your loved one is showing any of these symptoms to get a correct diagnosis and rule out other conditions or diseases.
Helping A Loved One with Parkinson’s Disease
If you have a spouse or parent who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, remember that it will be quite an adjustment for both of you and will take some getting used to. Here are some tips for how to navigate helping care for a loved one who has Parkinson’s Disease:
- Educate yourself. Take the time to understand what PD is and how it can show up. Read some research on how long it takes to progress and the severity of the progression.
- Offer education to your loved one. Since this new diagnosis can really impact a person’s pride, it’s important to ask your loved one if you may share the results of your research. Offer to pass along the information rather than giving your perspective and interpretation. Encourage your loved one to do independent research.
- Don’t enable your loved one. Often when someone is diagnosed with a disease that limits mobility, the caregiver takes on all responsibilities and starts doing things that the individual is still capable of handling. Don’t fall into this. Provide support as needed, but maintain the individual’s dignity by encouraging as much independence as possible.
- Observe them. It’s difficult to give up autonomy, but you can offer assistance politely if you notice that your loved one is struggling.
- Attend doctor’s appointments. A new diagnosis can be overwhelming and trigger such anxiety that it is difficult to take in everything the doctor is saying. Therefore, it’s great for you to be there with your loved one as a second set of ears and a source of emotional support.
- Help them stay on top of medications. Just like with any other disease, managing symptoms to help with a better quality of life is important. Parkinson’s medications need to be taken on a strict schedule to be most effective, so you may want to suggest the use of a medication reminder.
- Show grace. Managing PD can be difficult, so give your loved one grace. Be sure to be kind to them even if they’re having a bad day and aren’t being so nice to you.
- Get support. A support group can be very helpful for learning strategies for dealing with the effects of the disease and are available throughout the country. The Parkinson’s Foundation of the National Capital Area has a list of support groups in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. You can also consider in-home care to allow for a respite day or to give you time to take care of other needs.