When Your Spouse Learns They Have Parkinson’s – 5 Ways To Help
April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, and April 11 is World Parkinson’s Day. Not as many people are as familiar with Parkinson’s disease (PD) as they are with, perhaps, heart disease. But it’s believed that worldwide, more than 8.5 million people have Parkinson’s, including many who may not yet realize they have it.
The World Health Organization says that “disability and death due to PD are increasing faster than for any other neurological disorder.” What’s more, it adds, “The prevalence of PD has doubled in the past 25 years.” In the U.S., PD is the second-most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease typically strikes at age 60 or older, but it can affect younger people. Perhaps the most visible public advocate is Canadian actor Michael J. Fox, star of the “Back to the Future” movies. His Parkinson’s was diagnosed at age 29, and he has spent the years since raising awareness through The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (www.michaeljfox.org).
If your loved one recently received a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, you may be feeling a range of emotions, including shock, sadness, and anxiety about the future. Remember, you are not alone. There are resources and strategies you can use to help you and your spouse navigate this new challenge.
What Is Parkinson’s?
First, it’s helpful to understand what PD is and how it affects the body. Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disorder that affects movement and can cause tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. It is caused by the loss of cells in the brain that produce a chemical called dopamine, which is responsible for sending signals between brain cells that control movement.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, symptoms begin slowly, often on one side of the body. Later, they affect both sides. Symptoms include:
- Trembling of hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
- Stiffness of the arms, legs and trunk
- Slowness of movement
- Poor balance and coordination
As symptoms get worse, people with PD may have trouble walking, talking or doing simple tasks. They may also experience depression; sleep problems; or trouble chewing, swallowing or speaking.
There is no cure for PD, and the severity of symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Treatment options include medications to help manage symptoms and improve mobility, as well as physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Some people with Parkinson’s may also benefit from deep brain stimulation, a surgical procedure that involves the implantation of a device that sends electrical signals to specific areas of the brain to help control symptoms.
How To Help Your Loved One
As a caregiver for your spouse with Parkinson’s, there are several things you can do to help them manage their condition and maintain their quality of life. Here are the top five ways you can help them:
- One of the most important things you can do is to educate yourself about the disease and stay up to date on the latest treatment options and resources. This will help you better understand your spouse’s condition and be able to support them in their treatment decisions. Doing an internet search on “Parkinson’s disease” will yield numerous trustworthy sources of news and information.
- It’s also crucial to be patient and understanding. Parkinson’s can be a challenging and frustrating condition, and your spouse will have good days and bad days. Simply being there for them and offering support and encouragement will help.
- Another way you can help your spouse is by helping them maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes encouraging them to eat a healthy, balanced diet; exercise regularly; and get enough sleep. Exercise can be especially beneficial for people with PD, as it can help them improve mobility, balance and coordination. Find activities that your spouse enjoys and that are appropriate for their level of mobility.
- It’s also imperative to create a safe and accessible home environment for your spouse. This may involve making simple modifications such as installing handrails in the bathroom or removing tripping hazards. Have a plan in place in case of emergencies, such as a list of emergency contacts and a way to communicate with them if your spouse is unable to speak.
- Finally, remember to take care of yourself as a caregiver. Caring for someone with a chronic illness can be physically and emotionally draining. Make time for yourself and take breaks when you need them. Reach out for support from friends, family, and community resources, such as support groups for caregivers.
It may be difficult at this time to feel hopeful or grateful, but you may find some comfort in these words from Michael J. Fox:
“Gratitude makes optimism sustainable. If you’re grateful for the opportunities you have, for what you’ve been given to do work-wise, for the opportunities that exist, you’re optimistic. If you can just find those moments, I always feel that if you flip the coin 100 times, you’re going to come up heads 51.”
We at Right at Home care for many people with Parkinson’s. We help them with meals, oversee exercise, and provide hygiene assistance and transportation to doctor appointments. We also provide respite time for the family caregivers. Find your local Right at Home office and ask for a FREE in-home consultation.