Seeing a loved one struggle with a progressive illness is one of the most painful experiences you can go through. Parkinson’s disease is an especially difficult diagnosis as it causes a significant loss of independence. If you’re caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s disease, you might wonder how best to help them. Not only are you managing the medical and practical aspects of their care, but you also want to offer emotional support.
Signs and Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Understanding what Parkinson’s disease looks like can help you approach your caregiver role with more confidence. Symptoms may be subtle at first and then progress over time. The following are some of the most common signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that you may see in your loved one:
- Tremors in the hands, arms, or jaw
- Muscle stiffness
- Slow movements
- Reduced facial expressions; flat affect
- Loss of balance or coordination
- Difficulty speaking, chewing, and swallowing
- Sleep disruptions
- Urinary incontinence
- Cognitive decline
How Can You Help Someone With Parkinson’s Disease?
If you’re caring for a loved one who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you may feel lost or overwhelmed.
Here Are Eight Tips for Supporting Someone with Parkinson’s Disease
1. Assist with medical care.
Managing medical care when you have Parkinson’s disease can be difficult. In the early stages of the disease, your loved one may be able to manage their care independently. However, taking an active role in their care from the very beginning can be helpful for both of you. Not only is it an opportunity to show support and ease your loved one’s burden, but it also allows you to learn more about Parkinson’s disease before it progresses.
Consider attending doctor appointments with your family member if they give their permission. Learn about their medications, and make sure they’re taking their prescriptions regularly. You could also keep a log of their symptoms so that their doctors can make adjustments to the treatment plan.
2. Keep the home safe and accessible.
Parkinson’s disease affects your mobility and balance, but you can help your loved one maintain their independence by making the home as safe and accessible as possible. Place anti-skid mats in the bathroom and ensure that any rugs throughout the house are secure. Make sure all areas of the home are adequately lit so that your loved one can easily navigate the space. Avoid rearranging furniture, though, as this can cause confusion and increase the risk of falls.
3. Stick to a routine.
Routine is very helpful when living with Parkinson’s disease and other chronic illnesses. Progressive diseases are incredibly stressful and unpredictable, so the structure and familiarity of a daily routine can be comforting. Routine is especially important if your loved one is struggling with cognitive decline.
Try to follow a predictable routine for waking up, eating meals, doing household chores, or completing other regular tasks. Not every day will be exactly the same, but structure can help your loved one feel more in control of their Parkinson’s disease.
4. Look into support groups.
Chronic illnesses often feel extremely isolating. If your relative is struggling with the mental health impacts of Parkinson’s disease, look for support groups in your area. Connecting with others who can relate to your experiences can help them feel less alone. You could also look for support groups for caregivers of individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Taking care of a loved one with a progressive illness is not easy, and support groups can be a great source of wisdom and empathy.
5. Encourage them to socialize.
Unfortunately, Parkinson’s disease often takes a toll on your social life. Your loved one might struggle to leave the house due to fatigue or mobility limitations. Some people with Parkinson’s disease isolate themselves from friends and family because they don’t want their loved ones to see them in poor health. Everyone needs social interaction, though, so you can support your family member by making sure they have plenty of meaningful connections with others.
Plan activities with friends or family that will be accessible to your loved one with Parkinson’s disease. If they have a hard time leaving home, invite a close friend or relative over for a visit. Don’t overwhelm your loved one with social experiences if they value their alone time, but make sure they’re not suffering from isolation as a result of Parkinson’s disease.
6. Be patient.
As Parkinson’s disease progresses, daily tasks will likely become more difficult for your loved one. Build extra time into your schedule so that you and your family member don’t have to rush. Parkinson’s disease can affect speech as well, so be patient while your loved one talks. Try not to interrupt them or finish their sentences for them. If you find yourself feeling frustrated, take a step back from the situation so that you don’t snap at your family member.
7. Practice self-compassion.
Caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s disease can take a profound toll on your mental and emotional health. While being a caregiver is highly rewarding, it can also be extremely painful to see your loved one’s health decline. Caretaking is also a never-ending responsibility, so fatigue and burnout are very common. Be patient and compassionate with yourself, and don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need a break.
8. Reach out to a therapist.
If your loved one is struggling to come to terms with their illness, consider counseling for seniors. A therapist can help your family member process their thoughts and feelings about the diagnosis. They can also work with your loved one to develop positive coping skills and maintain a sense of purpose in life despite their disease.
Counseling can also be valuable to you as a caregiver. You need to take care of your own mental health so that you can continue to support your loved one. If the challenges of caretaking are starting to weigh on your mind, a therapist can help you figure out what changes to make so that caregiving feels more sustainable.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy for older adults facing chronic illnesses. If you’re interested in counseling for yourself or an aging loved one, please contact us today.