When someone you care about has Parkinson’s disease, you see firsthand the effects the condition can have on someone. Symptoms like rigid movements, poor balance, and tremors become part of their day-to-day life, and these symptoms can worsen as the disease progresses.
Your loved one needs extra help and support to stay active and preserve their quality of life. You can help out in a number of ways — from offering a friendly ear when they need to talk, to driving them to medical appointments.
Here are eight of the best ways to help someone you love manage Parkinson’s disease.
1. Learn everything you can about the disease
Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder. If you’re a caregiver for someone living with Parkinson’s, you’re likely familiar with some of the symptoms of the disease. But do you know what causes its symptoms, how the condition progresses, or what treatments can help manage it? Also, Parkinson’s doesn’t manifest the same way in everyone.
To be the best ally for your loved one, learn as much as you can about Parkinson’s disease. Do research on reputable websites like the Parkinson’s Foundation, or read books about the condition. Tag along for medical appointments and ask the doctor questions. If you’re well informed, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect and how to be the most help.
2. Volunteer to help out
Everyday responsibilities like shopping, cooking, and cleaning become much more difficult when you have a movement disorder. Sometimes people with Parkinson’s need help with these and other tasks, but they may be too proud or embarrassed to ask for it. Step in and offer to run errands, prepare meals, drive to medical appointments, pick up medications at the drug store, and help with any other day-to-day tasks they have difficulty with on their own.
3. Get active
Exercise is important for everyone, but it’s especially helpful for people with Parkinson’s disease. Research finds that exercise helps the brain use dopamine — a chemical involved in movement — more efficiently. Fitness improves strength, balance, memory, and quality of life in people with this condition. If your friend or loved one isn’t staying active, encourage them to get moving by taking a walk together every day. Or, sign up for a dance or yoga class together; both of these exercise programs are helpful for improving coordination.
4. Help them feel normal
A disease like Parkinson’s can interfere with the normalcy of someone’s life. Because people may focus so much on the disease and its symptoms, your loved one may start to lose their sense of self. When you talk to your loved one, don’t constantly remind them that they have a chronic disease. Talk about other things — like their favorite new movie or book.
5. Get out of the house
A chronic disease like Parkinson’s can be very isolating and lonely. If your friend or family member doesn’t get out much, take them out. Go to dinner or a movie. Be prepared to make some accommodations — like choosing a restaurant or theater that has a ramp or elevator. And be ready to adjust your plans if the person doesn’t feel well enough to go out.
It can be intensely upsetting and frustrating to live with a condition that is both degenerative and unpredictable. Anxiety and depression are common in people with Parkinson’s disease. Sometimes just offering a shoulder to cry on or a friendly ear can be a tremendous gift. Encourage your loved one to talk about their emotions, and let them know you’re listening.
7. Look for worsening symptoms
Parkinson’s symptoms progress over time. Be aware of any changes in your loved one’s walking ability, coordination, balance, fatigue, and speech. Also, watch for changes in their mood. Up to of people with Parkinson’s experience depression at some point in the course of their disease. Without treatment, depression can lead to faster physical declines. Encourage your loved one to get help from a trained mental health professional if they are sad. Make sure they make the appointment — and keep it. Go with them if they need help getting to the doctor or therapist’s office.
8. Be patient
Parkinson’s can affect your loved one’s ability to walk quickly, and to speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard. A speech therapist can teach them exercises to improve the volume and strength of their voice, and a physical therapist can help with their movement skills.
When having a conversation or going somewhere with them, be patient. It may take them longer than usual to respond to you. Smile and listen. Match your pace to theirs. Don’t rush them. If walking becomes too difficult, encourage them to use a walker or wheelchair. If speaking is a challenge, use other forms of communication — like messaging through an online platform or email.