Supporting Your Loved One’s General Health
Your loved one is more than just a person with Parkinson’s. They may have other ongoing health conditions that require regular medical management such as arthritis, diabetes, a heart or lung condition. You and your loved one need to be proactive in caring for all health concerns, not just Parkinson’s.
People with Parkinson’s who start exercising earlier experience a significantly slower decline in quality of life than those who start later. Regular exercise can help combat muscle stiffness, posture changes and weakness; reduce balance, walking and other mobility changes; and manage constipation, which is commonly seen in people with PD. Encourage regular exercise and activity in the following ways:
- Help your loved one establish a regular exercise routine. Offer to join them for a walk, bike ride or visit to the local health club.
- Loss of automatic movements can make the person with Parkinson’s less inclined to move around, so remind your loved one to change position at least every hour during the day. People with Parkinson’s should avoid long periods of time sitting. Suggest listening to an audiobook while walking around or try watching TV from a treadmill.
- Allow your loved one to be as independent as possible but help when needed. Certain tasks may now take longer to perform, and PD symptoms can change throughout the day.
- Encourage your loved one to pursue hobbies and activities. Parkinson’s disease can cause apathy or loss of motivation, and changes in motor control can make activities your loved one enjoyed in the past more difficult, so he or she may be less likely to participate without encouragement from others.
- Seek a referral to a physical therapist who can provide individual evaluation, recommend an exercise program and help with follow-through.
Did you know?
Based on findings from the Parkinson’s Foundation Parkinson’s Outcomes Project, the largest-ever clinical study of Parkinson’s, it is recommended that people with PD engage in at least 2.5 hours of exercise a week for a better quality of life. Help your loved one get up and get moving!
People with Parkinson’s are at a higher risk for melanoma than those without PD. Your loved one should always wear sunscreen when outside. Regular dermatology appointments are recommended, and you should encourage them to always point out any changes in the skin to a doctor.
Your loved one may develop dry or flaking skin on the face. Use mild soap, warm water and creams, which are more moisturizing than lotions on the face.
Their scalp may also become itchy and dry. Try a shampoo containing selenium sulfide, salicylic acid, zinc or coal tar. Make sure you rinse shampoo thoroughly from hair. Switch products periodically. See a dermatologist if skin problems do not go away.
Parkinson’s can cause changes in blood pressure that result in dizziness when you stand up. Tell the doctor if your loved one experiences dizziness when standing up. The doctor should test for a condition called orthostatic hypotension by measuring blood pressure in both sitting and standing positions.
Although there is no one special diet for people living with Parkinson’s, your loved one should follow these general recommendations:
Drink 48-64 ounces of fluid daily.
Eat foods high in fiber. Choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables as well as whole grain pasta and bread.
Protein in foods can interfere with levodopa absorption. Talk to the healthcare team about medication timing and meals.
Dental health is particularly critical for your loved one as PD can impact the health of the mouth, teeth and jaw and make dental care challenging, but it is also especially challenging for people with Parkinson’s to manage their dental health.
Managing Dental Health
Explore the most common dental risks related to Parkinson’s, how to prevent problems and resources that can help.
Sudden Changes in Symptoms
Parkinson’s symptoms tend to change slowly over time. Sudden changes, which may include worsening of current movement and non-movement symptoms or sudden onset of hallucinations and delusions (sometimes referred to as delirium), can often mean one of two things is happening:
- A virus or infection. The most common causes for sudden confusion and agitation are urinary tract infection or pneumonia.
- A reaction to a medication. Contraindicated medication (meaning it shouldn’t be taken by someone with Parkinson’s) or a medication that negatively interacts with another medication.
Many over the counter cold and flu medications can negatively impact the person with Parkinson’s, so you should always check with your loved one’s PD doctor before giving your loved one something they haven’t taken before.
If your loved one is experiencing delirium, sudden hallucinations or delusions, contact their PD doctor immediately. When you reach out, they may have you schedule an appointment in their office, direct you to your loved one’s primary care doctor for evaluation, or even send you to the hospital if symptoms are significant.
If you are advised to go to the hospital, remember to bring your Aware in Care hospital kit and be prepared to educate your loved one’s hospital care team about their needs in the hospital.
Emotional stress, worry and anxiety can worsen PD symptoms. You might notice that your loved one is experiencing worsened symptoms when going through a stressful time, grieving a loss or during a period of intense emotional or physical change. Stress triggers can be larger, these bigger, more intense causes, sometimes people with PD can be stressed out by much smaller things, like getting dressed or having repeated freezing episodes.
Treating Stress and Anxiety
While there are many ways to experience stress and anxiety, there are also many ways to combat them.
Identify Stress Triggers
Listing stress triggers can be a helpful way to find out how to manage them. Try writing in a journal. If tension reaches a breaking point, try a physical outlet, such as going for a walk or trying a challenging work out class.
If stress triggers are unavoidable, work to find reliable ways to reduce and manage them that work for you.
Mindfulness, meditation and yoga are often used to calm the brain and body and to re-center. They can help people with Parkinson’s manage symptoms, as they help manage stress and anxiety.
Breathing exercises are a form of mindfulness. This offers a simple and effective way to relax in moments of stress or anxiety. When you are stressed your body goes into a high state of physical arousal. You may notice muscle tension, a faster heartbeat or shallow breathing. Breathing exercises can help bring calm.
Events That Bring Calm
Practice mindfulness and guided relaxation through our Mindful Mondays events, or watch videos of past events.
There are different types of counseling and therapy that can help your loved one lower stress levels. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a non-drug approach to developing skills and actions that change patterns of thought and behavior related to depression.