April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. A month to raise awareness to the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s. It’s a progressive disorder that affects the central nervous system in the brain and causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as tremors, shaking, and difficulty with balance. Symptoms typically begin gradually and worsen over time.
It’s estimated that 500,000 Americans have Parkinson’s, but given that many individuals go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, the actual number is much higher. Some experts, in fact, estimate that as many as one million Americans have Parkinson’s Disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a serious illness, and feelings of stress and/or fear about the future are a normal response following a diagnosis of a senior loved one. However, with the proper diagnosis and treatment plan, symptoms can be made manageable. Here are some tips for caring for a senior loved one with Parkinson’s Disease and how you can best support them.
One of the first and most important things you can do when caring for someone diagnosed with Parkinson’s is to learn as much as possible about the disease. You need to know what you’re dealing with and what you can expect. Speak with their doctor and learn symptoms to watch out for. Symptoms include:
- Tremor in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
- Muscle stiffness
- Slowness of movement
- Impaired balance and coordination
In addition to those four main symptoms, your loved one could experience depression, difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking, urinary and constipation problems, and skin problems. Symptoms and the rate of disease progression differ among all patients. Communicate with your senior loved one and help them identify symptoms and how you can best help them. The more you know, the better off and easier caring for your loved one with Parkinson’s Disease will be.
Attend Doctors’ Appointments
In the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, your loved one may be fully capable of getting themselves to and from the doctors and other appointments like therapy. However, it’s a good idea for you to attend still. This allows you to ask any questions you may have or to share your unique perspective or observations that your loved one may not bring up or even be aware of to discuss. In addition, by being present at the appointments, you can take notes to recall at a later time.
Parkinson’s is a vicious disease that significantly impacts the body and mind. As previously mentioned, Parkinson’s Disease progresses differently for everyone, and symptoms are gradual, often making them difficult to accept. Tasks or even just movements will begin to take your loved one longer to do than it normally would have. This can cause them to become angry and frustrated. Provide the support they need and be patient with them. Don’t always rush to assist. Allow them to maintain their independence as long as they can. Provide and offer help when asked or when immediate assistance is required.
Get the Necessary Support
In addition to being supportive of your senior loved one with Parkinson’s Disease, you need to get the much-needed support you deserve. Your loved one’s disease doesn’t just affect them; it also affects you. You, too, will have difficult days and struggles you must overcome. It’s okay to take time for yourself. If your loved one requires much hands-on care, you may consider finding a home-health nurse to assist you in caring for them. This will help you to continue to live your life and take care of day-to-day activities without having to worry about your loved one being taken care of. If you’re having difficulty coping, join a support group.
Be Honest with Your Loved One
When caring for a senior with Parkinson’s Disease, try to start an open and honest dialogue with them. Express your feelings to them. Allow them to express theirs. This will help both of you to be on the same page and to prevent any uneasiness or possible future resentment. Parkinson’s Disease is hard on everyone, and you and your loved one must be a team.