An estimated 60,000 people are diagnosed each year in the U.S. with Parkinson’s Disease according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, with many thousands more potentially living with Parkinson’s undetected. For those patients with this debilitating autoimmune disease and their families, life can be difficult and full of unknowns. Better understanding the disease and learning smart tips for managing it safely at home can make all the difference.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease is the result of specific brain cells, or neurons, responsible for producing dopamine being damaged or dying off. Dopamine is a chemical the brain uses to transmit electrical signals, many of which control motor functions and autonomic functions (like blink, smiling, etc).
When the brain cells responsible for making dopamine no longer function, then key regions of the brain are unable to communicate with others and the body. This results in a variety of Parkinson’s symptoms including:
- Tremors – especially while at rest
- Muscle rigidity
- Trouble speaking
- Difficulty writing
- Slowed movements
- Excessive sweating
- Balance problems
- Loss of sense of smell
- Behavioral and personality changes
- Impulsive control disorders
- Sleep issues
While many medicinal avenues exist for treating Parkinson’s symptoms, there are many actions which can be taken at home as well to maintain quality of life and secure a safe living environment. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease which progressively worsens over time, however, some patients may live with with the condition successfully for decades.
Tips for Managing Parkinson’s at Home
The primary culprits when it comes to the condition is often the tremors, balance problems, and muscle rigidity which can lead to immobility and inactivity. To keep you or your loved one upright and safe at home, don’t forget to:
Install safety equipment – making it easier to get in and out of the house as well as up and down stairways may simply be a matter of installing handy grab bars and railing. Safety equipment like this can help someone with Parkinson’s successfully navigate their home environment and retain their sense of self reliance.
Prevent slips and falls – while grab bars and railings make getting around easier, additional devices and tools like shower chairs, proper lighting, or the best nonslip bath mat can make trickier environments like the bathroom easier (and safer) to use.
Remove clutter – Dragging one’s feet is a key characteristic of mid-stage Parkinson’s, so removing clutter like large pieces of unused furniture, and trip hazards like cords and curled up carpet corners can prevent falls and make it safer to walk around.
Keep up nutrition – while missing dopamine is essentially the root cause of Parkinsonism, nutrition can still play an important role in managing the disease. Maintaining a healthy diet of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, leans meats, and healthy fats can stave off other conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure which can exacerbate Parkinson’s symptoms.
Exercise – physical therapy and routine exercise can help someone with Parkinson’s maintain a wider range of motion, flexibility, and strength even as the disease progresses. Low-impact activities like hiking, cycling, and dancing foster muscle and bone strengthening while also honing balance and coordination skills.
Understand freezing – episodes where the body freezes and can no longer proceed with the action you were taking, i.e. when walking forward, is common among patients and is incredibly challenging. Tips for overcoming freezing episodes including using a laser pointer to draw an imaginary line to walk over when your feet won’t seem to walk forward, listening to music, or marching.
A Parkinson’s diagnosis may seem like a death sentence, but it truly does not have to be. With a motivated attitude and the right tips and best practices, people with Parkinson’s can age in place successfully and carry on with a quality of life like never before.