Caring for a Senior with Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder which affects the nervous system. It is a progressive disorder and the symptoms of the disease worsen over time. Parkinson’s leads to the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain called neurons. These dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to that part of the brain which controls its movement and coordination. With the progression of Parkinson’s disease, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain reduces and that makes a person unable to control movement normally. The hallmark sign of Parkinson’s disease is presence of clumps of a protein alpha-synucleinin an area of the brain stem, which are also called Lewy Bodies.

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s but symptoms can be managed by medications and sometimes surgery. The specific group and severity of symptoms experienced differ from person to person. Primary motor signs of Parkinson’s disease include the following:

  • Stiff and aching muscles:  Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of the body. The stiff muscles can limit your range of motion and cause you pain.
  • Problems in balancing: Lack of confidence in walking due to balance and postural problems.
  • Loss of automatic movements: In Parkinson’s disease, you may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling or swinging your arms when you walk.
  • Speech changes: With the progression of this disease, it may get harder to talk and swallow. Speech may also become softer and monotone. People suffering from Parkinson’s may even choke, cough or drool. It is often seen that loss of movement in the muscles of the face cause a fixed, blank facial expression called the Parkinson’s Mask.
  • Writing changes:  Micrographia or shrinkage in handwriting is experienced and it progresses when a person with Parkinson’s writes more.

What are the risk factors for developing Parkinson’s disease?

Caregiving for a senior with Parkinson’s disease

Be well informed about the disease
Having adequate knowledge about the disease can help a caregiver be prepared of any physical and behavioral changes the care recipient may exhibit as the disease progresses. Knowing the five stages of the disease will be beneficial for a caregiver to help manage their symptoms.

Modifications at home
As Parkinson’s disease progresses, certain adjustments and modifications may be needed at home. The changes associated with this disease may require special accommodations for the senior’s mobility. An in-home caregiver may be hired to assist the senior in activities of daily living such as personal care, transportation, bathing, meal preparation, etc.

Go for doctor’s appointment
A caregiver should try to attend every appointment with the doctor. This will help them understand the disease and the problems associated with it.  It will also help if a caregiver maintains a journal of any physical or behavioral changes of the senior and discuss them during these appointments.

Get support
A caregiver should take some time off the caregiving duties every once in a while. It may even help to join a support group specifically for Parkinson’s caregivers as they can share insights and experiences of other caregivers.

Want more information, please see our additional posts as part of our month-long series dedicated to information regarding Parkinson’s Disease, diagnoses, treatment, prevention and care.