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Parkinson’s Disease: Scary But Not Fatal

Has your loved one been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD)? While any diagnosis can be scary, know that PD itself is not fatal. With early detection and proper care, your senior can still experience many years of fulfillment.

What It Is

Parkinson’s Disease is a brain disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination. Symptoms usually begin gradually and worsen over time. As the disease progresses, people may have difficulty walking and talking. While speech and movements are affected, often the patients retain full mental capacity and can participate in their own care plan. The progression of PD can be slow, and the initial signs may be very subtle. There is no test for the disease, so attention to detail is important to help your physician make a diagnosis.

Parkinson’s Disease has four main symptoms:

• Tremor (trembling) in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
• Stiffness of the limbs and trunk
• Slowness of movement
• Impaired balance and coordination, sometimes leading to falls

Ancillary to the main symptoms, you may see the following in your loved one:

• Difficulty swallowing, chewing, and speaking
• Less animated facial expressions
• Sleep disruption
• Changed handwriting
• Urinary issues
• Skin problems
• Depression
• Soft speech
(Source: National Institute on Aging and ParkinsonsDisease.net)

The primary dangers for PD patients are from falling or from pneumonia

Since PD affects the neural pathways controlling movement and balance, even walking on flat, even surfaces can be difficult to navigate. Falls that require surgery carry multiple risks to our older adults related to medications, blood clots and heart involvement.

Senior exercising for Parkinson's DiseasePD also eventually affects the ability to swallow, leading to an increased risk of aspirating food or drink into their lungs. While many of us can “cough up” items that we’ve swallowed incorrectly, those with PD may be unable to do this. This, in turn, can lead to pneumonia and other pulmonary complications. Coughing serves a purpose in usual illnesses to clear mucous and phlegm from our chests to keep it from building up and becoming infected. Unfortunately, our loved ones with PD are not able to adequately cough to clear this and are at risk for multiple more risky conditions, including pneumonia and the need for hospitalization.
(Source: National Institute on Aging and ParkinsonsDisease.net)

Exercise for Parkinson’s Disease

Aerobic Activity – 3 days a week for 30 minutes per session. Activities can include brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, and an aerobics class.
Strength Training – 2–3 non-consecutive days for 30 minutes per session. Training can include weight machines, resistance bands, and light/moderate handheld weights.
Balance Exercises – 2–3 days per week with daily smaller activities. Exercises should include activities that require multi-directional stepping, weight shifting, dynamic balance activities, large movements, and multitasking such as yoga, tai chi, dance, or boxing.
Stretching – 2–3 days per week with daily stretches being ideal. Stretches should work on sustained stretching with deep breathing or dynamic stretching before exercise.
(Source: Parkinson’s Foundation)

Diet for Parkinson’s Disease

• Drink six glasses of water per day to help medications break down more efficiently.
• Fiber-rich foods will help deter constipation.
• Limit sugar, alcohol, and caffeine in the evening to help eliminate barriers to sleep.
• Ensure adequate vitamin D to help with bone health.
• Include nuts like walnuts and cashews to promote brain health.
• Incorporate berries like blueberries and strawberries for their antioxidant properties.
• Eating foods like salmon, tuna, and dark leafy vegetables, which contain anti-inflammatory properties for our brains.
(Source: Parkinson’s Foundation)

Your Care Team

As with many of the diseases that can affect our older adults, staying active and pursuing a healthy diet can slow the progression of the disease.

Finding an occupational therapist who is skilled in the needs of PD patients will be important to help modify daily activities like eating and drinking, chores, and management of technology and can help your loved one continue to live a productive life.

Over half of patients will experience a level of depression connected with the diagnosis. Involving a therapist early in the diagnosis can help them handle the emotional challenges. Your loved one can also benefit from including a movement disorder specialist on their care team. This is a neurologist that specializes in movement disorders such as Parkinson’s. These specialists usually ensure that they are on the cutting edge of new therapies for PD. (Source: The Michael J Fox Foundation)




Starting a Fitness Routine for Seniors

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3 replies
  1. Nancy Maciolek
    Nancy Maciolek says:

    This was a very accurate depiction of how Parkinson’s disease affects a person. One of the most difficult things I encountered with my father was his own impaired judgment of what he was still capable of doing ( driving, movement in his house, what to eat). This perhaps is a the most important thing to consider when caring for a loved one with this disease. A person with Parkinson’s views his own abilities to be much more sufficient than they truly are. Interactions require kindness and patience.

    • Shawn Miles
      Shawn Miles says:

      Adopting a multidisciplinary approach with the support of general practitioners, neurologist’s and physical therapy can definitely help in assisting loved ones who are managing this disease. You make a very good point that the person suffering from this illness may not realize there abilities having been changing to the extent they really are. A care team that works together can be very beneficial to families during those times.

  2. Vivian Black
    Vivian Black says:

    My family has noticed that our uncle has been moving very slowly lately with some bouts in coordination and balance. We are suspicious of Parkinson’s disease because we have seen this before in our own father. Thank you for pointing out that Parkinson’s disease can progress slowly with subtle signs at first. We will talk to him about this the next time we see him. Perhaps he can get an earlier diagnosis.


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