If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, you would be eager to know about how to deal with this disease more effectively. For sure, medication can help to reduce symptoms but in order to live much better, you need to follow other approaches as well.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
There are millions of people around the world who are suffering from problems like shaky hands, slow in movement, rigid body, and postural instability. These problems appear when the brain is unable to perform its movement function and develop a disease state known as Parkinson’s disease.
The disease is named after an English surgeon James Parkinson, who for the first time had clearly documented its medical description in 1817.
While the exact cause of the disease is unknown, most researchers believe that environment and genetics both play a role in its onset. It has now been confirmed that 15% of the disease cases have a clear genetic origin (1).
Parkinson’s disease was first believed to be the disease of old-age people. However, due to an increase in the number of people diagnosed at a young age, it is now realized that Parkinson’s can also occur in people younger than 40 years of age (2).
Today, more than 10 million people worldwide are suffering from Parkinson’s disease and this number is growing every year (3).
Although Parkinson’s disease is not curable, it can be managed with treatment. The medication available today has not only increased the quality of life but also enormously prolonged the life expectancy of patients.
What’s really going on in the brain that develops Parkinson’s disease?
Your brain has full control over everything you do. Apart from other key functions, your brain controls the different movements of your body. The region responsible for this job is known as the Substantia nigra, a Latin word meaning black substances.
The Substantia nigra is abundant with special brain cells called Dopaminergic neurons. These are named dopaminergic because they produce Dopamine, a chemical messenger released by the brain for controlling body movements (4).
In Parkinson’s disease, these Dopaminergic neurons start to die and the brain becomes unable to produce dopamine in sufficient quantity to governs body movements (5).
As a result, the body becomes stiff and slow in movements (in medical term knows as bradykinesia). In addition, some parts of the body, like hands, develop an uncontrolled shaking – normally known as tremor (6).
By the time these classical symptoms appear, the brain already lost 70% of its Dopaminergic neurons (7).
Parkinson’s is a progressive disease
When you get flu or fever, you take antibiotics and recover in 2-3 days. But this is not the case with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s is a progressive disease that develops and becomes worse over time.
At first, some abnormal changes appear in the brain that begins to damage parts of the brain responsible for body movements. These changes are gradual and the effect is limited to the brain only (8).
After 15-20 years, the damage reaches the level where it begins to affect body normal movements. This is the early stage where typical symptoms of the disease start to develop. These early symptoms are mild and appear either on one or both sides of the body. At this stage, the disease can easily be diagnosed clinically (9).
After 10 years of diagnosis, movement function of the brain is drastically reduced, and the symptoms become more noticeable that is usually accompanied with other problems like constipation, insomnia, low blood pressure, and abnormal eating behavior. This is called the mid-stage of the disease (10).
When the disease has passed 20 years, it reaches its advanced stage. At this stage, the symptoms become very severe and most often the patient needs assistance for mobility.
How should I know that I have Parkinson’s disease?
In Parkinson’s disease, abnormal changes appear in the brain many years before the onset of its typical signs. But you wouldn’t recognize the disease at this stage.
The disease becomes evidently clear when you experience symptoms like hand trembling, stiffness in the muscle, difficulty in walking, and problem in balance. In addition, you may also feel difficulty in talking, loss of facial expression and decreased blinking (11).
If you experience most of these signs, it’s a clear indication that you have Parkinson’s disease.
I’m diagnosed with Parkinson’s, how can I deal with it?
Life can be distressful if you or your loved one is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But it can turn to normal if you know how to deal with the problems related to disease more effectively.
Medication can certainly reduce the complications, but it’s not the only way to deal with this disease. There are other approaches that you need to consider. Adopting them in your life will help you to feel and live much better with this progressive disease.
Here are 7 better ways which help you to deal with Parkinson’s disease more effectively.
1. Accept the reality that you have Parkinson’s disease
Have you seen those people who get some serious diseases but still deny it?
There are many people out there with apparent signs of Parkinson’s, but they are still not ready to accept it. They think it’s just a temporary condition that will go away on its own with time.
Again, Parkinson’s is not like flu or cold that completely disappear in a few days. It’s a brain illness that lasts throughout your life. It’s unfortunate but it is a fact.
The more early you accept this reality the more it will be easy for you to deal with it.
2. Educate yourself about the disease
This is important. The more you understand the disease the more it will be easy for you to cope with it. There are plenty of organizations available that provide information and research on Parkinson’s. These organizations may also provide advocacy for the disease. Just search on the internet and you’ll likely find many of them.
However, be aware of misleading information. Get information from a well-known Parkinson’s related organizations like Parkinson’s disease foundation, European Parkinson’s disease association, Partners in Parkinson’s, and Michael J. Fox Foundation.
3. Try to be socially active
Many people with Parkinson’s restrict themselves from being socially active. This is a completely wrong approach. You don’t have to do this. In fact, you need to be more social.
Research has shown that social interaction helps patients to boost their feelings of well-being and decrease feelings of depression.
Therefore, keep yourself busy and participate in gatherings with family and friends as much as you can. The more you engage yourself socially, the more you will feel normal.
4. Do regular exercise
It is well-known that exercise is good for a healthy body, regardless of whether or not you have Parkinson’s. However, it is even more important if you have Parkinson’s disease.
Several studies have shown that doing regular exercise has positive effects on mobility, posture, gait, and balance. In addition, it also improves quality of life (12).
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that exercise is medicine for Parkinson’s disease.
So what kind of exercise should you do?
Any form of aerobic exercise is beneficial: walking, jogging, stretching, cycling, and swimming are easy and best for you. These kinds of exercises will help to improve motor symptoms, walking speed, balance, and strength. Plus, it will reduce the signs of depression and fatigue.
Make a routine of doing exercise every day, at least 3 hours a week. It will not only make you feel better (both physically and mentally) but also gives you a strong sense of control over your symptoms.
It is always good to talk to your doctor about the exercise that works best for you.
5. Follow a healthy diet plan
When it comes to diet, there is no restrict rule. However, you need to make sure to consume enough calories and nutrients. Eating well will maintain your body strength and weight. Additionally, it will help you to fight constipation, which is a common problem in Parkinson’s patients.
- Try to eat a variety of foods to get enough proteins, vitamins, carbs, and fibers.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits.
- Consume foods with a low level of saturated fats and cholesterol.
- Avoid eating food containing a high amount of sugar or salt.
- Drinking alcohol has shown to be protective, but excessive use can be harmful. Therefore, try to avoid or use it moderately.
6. Consider counseling
Some people with Parkinson’s feel shy to discuss their private problems arise during the disease with family members. If you are one of them, consider counseling.
It may not necessary in the early stage. However, as the disease progresses you may come across some problems impacting your lifestyle or affecting your family relationship and therefore it may be helpful to talk to a trained counsellor.
7. Use assistive devices for self-care tasks
Over time, Parkinson’s can make your self-care tasks difficult and so you should get ready for that.
For example, your body will be stiffed in the morning and therefore getting started your day will be slower than normal. Performing tasks like taking a shower, getting dressed, and taking shoes on, will take more time than usual.
Hand tremor is another problem that you will experience time to time. It is especially problematic in eating food. Similarly, Parkinson’s can also affect the way you walk. Your walk will be slower than normal and sometimes stepping forward can be hard.
Using assistive devices can help you to perform these self-care tasks easily. There are many products available on the market that are specially designed for Parkinson’s patients. Some of the most effective products that you may need include tremor spoon, weighted utensils, and walking stick.
Disclaimer: The information shared here should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions presented here are not intended to treat any health conditions. For your specific medical problem, consult with your health care provider.