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Emotional Response to Parkinson's Disease

When you or a family member is diagnosed with Parkinson's, you will experience a range of emotions and go through several stages of adjustment to the disease. As Parkinson's progresses, bringing new challenges, you will go through many of the emotions and stages of adjustment again and again. Each person will experience the stages in their own order and at their own pace.

Remember, everything you are feeling is normal.

Denial, Disbelief, Shock

  • This response may be prolonged if symptoms are mild or the correct diagnosis is not made early in the course of the disease.
  • Ironically, denial can be a useful coping mechanism if it allows you to largely ignore symptoms and go on with life as usual.
  • However, if a person refuses to take medication, or goes to extremes seeking second opinions, it may indicate denial as an unhealthy response.

What to do

  • Take time to explore your feelings and be honest with yourself and others. Journaling or telling your story may help.
  • Knowledge is power. Learn about Parkinson's, and focus on abilities rather than inabilities. Remember that each person's experience of PD is unique. 

Discouragement, Searching for an Explanation

  • In this phase, people look for some direct cause for the health problems they are experiencing.
  • You might become preoccupied with the "why me?" question, while searching for something or somebody to blame for the unwanted circumstances occurring in your life.

What to do

  • Symptoms of depression are common in any stage of PD. In some cases, depression is an early symptom. Don't be afraid to tell your doctor if you feel depressed. 

Shifting Abilities, Role Reversals

  • People with Parkinson's often need more time to perform activities because of changes in hand coordination, muscle stiffness or slowness. Conflict may arise as it becomes necessary to reevaluate who is responsible for what tasks in the family and around the home.
  • Changing abilities and assuming new roles can cause frustration and emotional upheaval.
  • Stress makes PD symptoms worse.

What to do

  • Maintain open communication with your loved ones.
  • Prioritize daily tasks. Get outside help as needed for some tasks such as yard work, housecleaning or home maintenance.
  • Regular exercise can help manage stress.
  • Seek help from a counselor to resolve relationship conflicts.

Identity Change

  • At this point, you realize that PD has had an impact on your life. You are willing to take on the work of achieving your optimal level of independence.
  • You are also willing to seek out others with the same condition for education and encouragement.

What to do

  • Explore new opportunities to find self-fulfillment.


  • You once again feel some control in your life. 

What to do

  • Take an active role in your health and care. For example, work with your health care providers to optimize your medications.
  • Communicate openly about your priorities.
  • Set realistic expectations.