There’s been a lot of press lately about Parkinson’s disease. Major public figures, including Janet Reno, Michael J. Fox, and Robin Williams, were all diagnosed with this shattering condition. Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disorder, with symptoms typically appearing in one’s 50’s or 60’s, although they can appear earlier.
No two people develop the disease the same way, but for most, it eventually robs the patient of their ability to walk, talk, swallow, and more. There is no known cure as of yet, and as symptoms progress, the victim will likely need increasing amounts of help until they become completely dependent on a caretaker.
If that caretaker is you, you may be wondering how to best help your loved one with Parkinson’s. Read on for some important tips.
Providing help to those with Parkinson’s
Most people are familiar with the classic symptoms of Parkinson’s – the shaking hands. If your loved one has this symptom, there are a few things you can do to help.
First, speak to your loved one’s physician about the amount of caffeine in their diet. Drinks like coffee, tea, and sodas can make a person jittery, and although it is not likely the sole factor in Parkinson tremors, it can aggravate the condition. Second, some patients find pressing the elbow of the arm they’re trying to use against the side of their body can help stabilize their hand. Finally, a combination of a hard brace and weight applied to the hand may also help reduce tremors.
Coping with fatigue
People with Parkinson’s tend to tire easily even after a small amount of activity, so chronic fatigue can be an issue. Brainstorm ways to conserve energy with your loved one, including putting frequently used items where they can be found easily, so they spend less time and effort searching for them. Adaptive devices around the home, such as grab bars, tub and shower benches, and canes or walkers may also help.
Help with swallowing
Trouble swallowing is another unenviable part of Parkinson’s, which may mean offering your loved one foods that are extremely easy to eat. Moist or soft items are ideal, as well as supplemental drinks that aren’t overly thick, which can prevent the patient from swallowing them with ease. On the other hand, food such as cookies, crackers, cakes, and other bread products can make crumbs that catch too easily in the throat.
Of course, check with your loved one’s physician or nutritionist before making any changes in their meals, as certain seniors are on restricted or specialized diets unrelated to Parkinson’s.
Difficulty with depression
It will come as no surprise that victims of Parkinson’s sometimes struggle with depression. However, many who have the disease enjoy years of life with high functioning. Reminding your loved one of this may help bolster their spirits.
Exercise – to whatever extent they are able – is also known to be beneficial. It can help lift mood as well as keep muscles limber and supple. You may also want to speak to a physical or occupational therapist, who can recommend specific exercises for your senior’s condition.
Finally, don’t shy away from seeking professional help from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or both. Depression is a normal reaction to a diagnosis of a major illness, and you’ll want to use every medical tool at your disposal to treat it.
If a loved one has Parkinson’s, don’t be afraid to reach out
If you’re taking care of a senior with Parkinson’s, you’re in a unique position to provide both physical and emotional support. This is a difficult role that can be heartbreaking at times. With all the hard work that you’re doing, don’t neglect to put aside some time to take care of yourself.
There’s also no harm (or shame) in reaching out and asking for help. Consider hiring an experienced home health aid, for instance, or a visiting nurse. You’ll return to your loved one well-rested and better prepared for the challenges that come with this demanding condition.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.