By Nia Garcia
April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. The second most common neurodegenerative disease in the country after Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease affects millions of Americans. Although there is no cure, it is possible to live a full life with the disease.
Commonly known for movement or motor symptoms, such as tremors, abnormally slow movements, twitching, lack of facial expression, involuntary movements, or freezing, Parkinson’s disease also presents with non-motor symptoms such as apathy, depression, sleep behavior disorders, loss of smell and cognitive disorders.
One of the most challenging aspects of treating Parkinson’s disease is that everyone’s disease progresses differently. Symptoms may develop slowly over years, and the order in which they appear may vary from person to person. This often makes diagnosis difficult, which can be very frustrating. Symptoms to consider include slowness of movement and rigidity; difficulties with balance, swallowing, chewing and speaking; cognitive impairment and dementia; and mood disorders.
The good news is that there are ways to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease and maintain a high quality of life. As a gerontologist – someone who specializes in aging – and owner of a non-medical home care business, I have made it a point to help spread awareness about Parkinson’s disease and share ways to helping people with the disease. SYNERGY Homecare has an educational partnership with the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and we are fortunate to have access to tremendous information and resources.
One of the most important things to know is that exercise and activity are essential. According to the Parkinson’s Outcomes Project, the largest clinical study of Parkinson’s disease conducted by the foundation’s Network of Centers of Excellence, increasing physical activity to at least 2.5 hours per week can help slow decline in quality of life.
People with Parkinson’s disease should also follow their treatment regimens. Caregivers can help them adhere to prescribed physical therapy exercises, occupational therapy, recommended daily living modifications, and speech exercises. This can include gait and balance training, resistance training, and regular exercise.
Having a physical and emotional support system can make a huge difference for people with Parkinson’s disease. In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, people generally need emotional support more than anything else to control the progression of the disease.
In order to maintain a good quality of life, it is important to allow a person with Parkinson’s disease to retain their independence for as long as possible. As the disease progresses, certain activities of daily living, such as dressing, eating and bathing, may require workarounds and there are many ideas and suggestions for adaptations on the website of the Parkinson Foundation, such as:
• Tremors can make walking difficult
• Take care of the house, clean the floors, arrange the furniture in such a way as to facilitate access and security
• Encourage doctor-recommended exercises as well as facial exercises
• Activities like singing, dancing or reading aloud
• Daily hygiene is greatly affected by hand tremors
• Opt for an electric toothbrush rather than a manual one
• Opt for an electric razor rather than a manual one
• If balance is out of balance, try sitting down while brushing or shaving.
• Walk-in showers are much easier to access than bathtubs
• Shower stools are also useful, especially when they are unstable
• Opt for clothes that are easier to put on
• Elastic waistbands
• Dress worst affected side first
• Avoid buttons and laces
Ensuring a good quality of life for people with Parkinson’s is possible through a complementary approach that includes medication, regular activity, and modifications to activities of daily living.
For more information, visit www.parkinson.org/california.
Nia Garcia is the owner of SYNERGY HomeCare of Long Beach.