Being told that you have Parkinson can be overwhelming. You may feel many conflicting emotions ranging from disbelief and denial to fear, anxiety and sadness. You may find it a relief that a reason for the problems you have been experiencing has been identified. You may be concerned about becoming physically, emotionally and economically dependent on others. It is only natural to worry about the responses of loved ones, employers and work colleagues, and, if symptoms are obvious, with the reactions of total strangers.
Parkinson is a very individual condition and affects everyone differently – if somebody else you know or someone in your family has had Parkinson, do not assume that you will experience the same symptoms or problems. Learn to recognize your own symptoms and share any observations with your doctor and healthcare team. Although you may often feel anxious or discouraged, try not to let others – including your family and your doctors – make important decisions for you.
One of the best ways to deal with any fears or worries about Parkinson is to find out as much as you can about the condition. As well as talking to your healthcare team, books and information on the internet, including the websites of various Parkinson organizations, can be useful sources of information. Contact with people who know what you are going through can be especially helpful. Why not ask your doctor, nurse or social worker about Parkinson support groups in your local community?
A good exercise plan can really help your body to cope better with Parkinson. If you spend too much time inactive, your condition is unlikely to improve and may get worse. Regular exercise can help maintain flexibility, good posture, keep muscles strong and joints supple and improve circulation to the heart and lungs. It can also help you to deal with day-to-day stress, and give you a sense of achievement and control over your condition.
Taking up exercise could be as easy as finding a simple activity that you enjoy, such as walking, gardening, housekeeping or swimming, and making it part of your daily routine. (Try to make sure you are accompanied when swimming in case of possible freezing or cramping).
Try to retain as many of your leisure activities as possible. If they become more difficult, rather than immediately giving them up, consider whether there are simple modifications that might help. Some people find exercise classes beneficial, and exercising in a group can also provide an ideal opportunity to socialize.
Complementary therapies, such as the Alexander technique, Yoga, or Tai Chi, can help with Parkinson both physically and mentally. Sometimes these complementary therapies are now provided as part of a rehabilitation process for Parkinson.
Living with Parkinson
There is no question that a diagnosis of Parkinson represents a serious life change, and it is only natural to worry about the future. You will probably have 'good' and 'bad' days, and feelings of sadness, discouragement, irritability and frustration are all understandable. Importantly, try to be kind to yourself on days when you feel fed-up or frustrated.
It will help to share any anxieties with your family and friends, gain good professional advice and take advantage of local support networks.
If you start to experience more serious feelings of sadness or withdrawal, you may be suffering from depression. Signs of depression may include sleep disturbances, problems with concentration, weight loss/gain, anxiety or irritability and panic attacks.
If you or your family thinks that you are suffering from depression, don't be afraid to ask for help or advice. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you are depressed.
Counseling may help. A counselor can provide individual or family counseling about how to adjust to the changes Parkinson is making to your life.
Depression can often improve without treatment once your antiparkinsonian drugs begin to take effect. Simple measures such as adjusting your medication may help. If needed, several types of antidepressant drugs are compatible with the treatments for Parkinson and can help to relieve the symptoms of depression.