Living with Parkinson’s Disease

The challenges of living with PD may affect you in many different ways—from your emotional well-being and overall health to your ability to get around and care for yourself. By building a solid support system, knowing how to access the resources you need, and educating yourself about how to cope with the changes you’re experiencing, you’ll be prepared to keep yourself safe, healthy, and comfortable.

Your Support System

To build your support system, look to members of your healthcare team, family and friends, community and church groups, and PD support groups. Your support system can help you with tips for coping with PD and practical assistance such as transportation to and from medical appointments and provide emotional comfort.

Some of the Challenges of Living with Parkinson’s Disease

Living with a chronic, progressive condition like PD not only affects you physically but can also have a large emotional impact. As well, people with PD can experience cognitive changes (changes in the thinking process), making adjustment to life with this condition even more challenging.

Some of the challenges to daily life that PD may present include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis (hallucinations or delusions)
  • Trouble sleeping and excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Cognitive changes (slowness in thinking, loss of memory, decreased attention span, difficulty with word finding)
  • Trouble with speech
  • Trouble eating (difficulty with chewing or swallowing)
  • Risk of falling
  • Difficulty with personal care such as grooming, bathing, and getting dressed

How to Cope

Your best source of information for how to cope with daily life when you have PD is likely your healthcare team. Different members of the team can address topics within their area of expertise or, if necessary, help you find additional help. For example, a mental health professional can help you cope with depression and other mood-related concerns, a speech pathologist can address difficulties with speech, and physical or occupational therapists can help with motor symptoms. When in doubt about whom to turn to, ask your primary care physician for a recommendation.

Lifestyle Choices

By making lifestyle choices that support your overall well-being and PD-related health issues, you may feel better, have better control over your symptoms, and protect yourself from accidents such as falls.

What You Can Do:

  • Exercise: Physical activity can help you maintain balance and mobility as well as help slow the progression of PD. Talk to your primary care physician, physical therapist, and other appropriate members of your healthcare team about what kinds of exercises are safe for you, how often you should exercise and at what intensity, and what activities will benefit you the most.
  • Maintain a healthy diet: Proper nutrition can help you maintain a healthy weight, lower your risk of other illness (heart disease and cancer, for example), and help keep your body and bones strong—an important consideration for people with PD, due to the risk of falling. Eating well can also help you manage constipation, which is common with PD. A nutritionist or dietician help you create a healthy eating plan. Basic guidelines include choosing a variety of foods that provide energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals; eating plenty of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits and avoiding foods high in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol; reducing your sugar and sodium intake; and, if you drink alcoholic beverages, doing so moderately.
  • Make your home safe and easy to get around and make amenities (such as bathrooms and the kitchen) easy and safe to use: Your home should be well-lit, necessary items should be easy to reach, and rooms, stairs, and hallways should be kept free of clutter. To minimize the risk of slipping or falling, floor surfaces shouldn’t be slippery, and throw rugs should have rubber backing. In the bathroom, tubs and shower stalls should have at least two handrails and non-skid rubber bath mats; some people also use benches or shower chairs. Kitchens can be made safer and easier to use with additions like longer cabinet handles instead of knobs and single-handed faucets. As well, keep commonly used items (food, spices, potholders, and pots and pans, for example) easy to find and reach. In the bedroom, make sure your bed is easy to get in and out of, use a night-light, keep a flashlight by your bedside, and have lamp and light switches within easy reach form the bed.
  • Have a phone in critical locations. Any room where you spend a lot of time (such as the living room and bedroom) or where there’s a greater risk of injury (the bathroom and kitchen, for example) should be equipped with a cordless phone that’s always kept within reach.
  • Have smoke alarms in important locations like the bedroom and kitchen.

Resources

National Parkinson Foundation

American Parkinson Disease Association

Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN)

Parkinson’s Resource Organization

Sources

NINDS Parkinson’s Disease Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/parkinsons_disease/parkinsons_disease.htm.
(Accessed October 2010).

Parkinson’s Disease. National Parkinson Foundation website. Available at: http://www.parkinson.org/parkinson-s-disease.aspx.

(Accessed October 2010).