Caring For Elders With Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is common for people 60 years old and above, but there are recorded cases of patients that begin to experience symptoms at 40 years old. It is important to note that not all people with Parkinson’s disease experience the same set of symptoms and at the same rate of progression.

Caring For Elders With Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is common for people 60 years old and above, but there are recorded cases of patients that begin to experience symptoms at 40 years old. It is important to note that not all people with Parkinson’s disease experience the same set of symptoms and at the same rate of progression.

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder among older people – usually 60 years old and above – which results from degradation of vital nerve cells in their brain. Basically, they move slower and their movements are stiffer than before. Dealing with this disease is a challenge to both the caregiver and the patient. Since it is a progressive disease, you can only expect the condition to continuously worsen over time. Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are medications that can help control the symptoms significantly.

Primary Symptoms

Parkinson’s disease is common for people 60 years old and above, but there are recorded cases of patients that begin to experience symptoms at 40 years old. It is important to note that not all people with Parkinson’s disease experience the same set of symptoms and at the same rate of progression. The patient will go through both motor and non-motor symptoms. Usually, motor symptoms begin on one side of the body and makes it way to the other side as time passes by. These symptoms most commonly attributed to Parkinson’s disease:

  1. Tremors. Again, not all patients may experience tremors, but this is the most common symptom so far. A tremor is an involuntary quivering movement or shake1. It occurs when the patient is at rest, starting with slow, rhythmic patterns on one hand, arm, foot, or leg. Eventually, it affects both sides of the body. Most people think that tremors are the main problem of Parkinson’s disease – it is not. Movement can stop the tremors, some even just put their bad hand inside the pocket or sit over it. Thus, tremors do not necessarily impede a person’s capability to perform daily living activities.
  2. Rigid or Stiff Movements. Stiffness cause muscle aches aside from making movement difficult. Most patients often attribute rigidity to arthritis. At the onset, they would most likely ask to be checked for frozen shoulders or other orthopedic conditions. Stiffness may be felt on the arms, legs, trunk, and even facial muscles. It also negatively affects the sleep quality of the patient.
  3. Deteriorating Capabilities for Movement. A person with Parkinson’s Disease may suffer from slow movement (bradykinesia) or loss of movement (akinesia). Patients lose their ability for arm swing and in making facial expressions, thus, giving the impression of having a mask-like face.
  4. Balance and Walking Problems. It starts with having difficulty in walking at a normal pace, and then losing the ability to lift a leg, resulting to dragging one foot behind the other. Patients can also take unusually small steps to make themselves move forward or turn around. Eventually, problems in their posture become apparent resulting in a stooped or bent torso. Posture problems usually develop during the latter years of the disease, but patients may experience episodes of “freezing” prior that. Freezing occurs when they lose the ability to move any part of their body for several seconds or minutes.

Taking Care of a Person with Parkinson’s Disease

As the diseases progresses, a person with Parkinson’s disease will need more attention and assistance to perform daily living activities. Being the caregiver, there are days when you would need to help your patient accomplish even the simplest task, and there are days when the patient would prefer to try doing things on his own. It would take time before you learn which tasks he wants help with and which ones to let him do alone. Here are some of the activities they will need help on:

  1. Grooming. Try to make this activity easy for your patient. An electric toothbrush or shaver will make grooming tasks easier as minimal movement would be required from his end. Bring a small towel with you when he brushes his teeth in case of drooling or gagging. After the patient uses the electric shaver, apply lotion on his face.
  2. Bathing. For safety purposes, use the shower instead of a bathtub to prevent the chances of slipping or falling. While bathing him, let the patient sit down and hold on to a metal bar for extra precaution. There are instances when Parkinson’s disease patients develop dandruff. If this happens, use salicylic acid or mild coal tar. Make sure to rinse his hair thoroughly. Once bathing is done, wrap the patient in an absorbent towel so he does not have to use a towel to dry himself.
  3. Getting Dressed. Prepare clothes that will be easy to put on. Don’t go for clothes that require to be pulled on over the head and clothes that have buttons. Shoe with rubber soles can cause tripping, so it should be avoided also. Let the patient dress himself as much as possible but be the one to lay clothes in advance. Make sure the clothes are prepared according to which piece of clothing the patient prefers to wear first. Suggest that he sit down while dressing himself and start on the his most affected side.
  4. Eating. To maintain overall good health, people with Parkinson’s disease should have diet containing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, protein-rich food, and milk with dairy products. The patient should also limit his sugar, salt, and sodium intake. Include food high in antioxidants in his menu, this is important for overall brain health. To reduce the risk of heart attack. The patient should eat food low in fat and cholesterol. Weight should also be monitored to reduce chances of other complications such as high blood pressure, stroke, certain types of cancer, and diabetes.
  5. Physical Activities. Encourage the patient to still participate in activities. There are tools specifically designed to be held easily. You can also consult and occupational therapist for suggested activities and strategies. You can also try relaxing activities to reduce his stress. Stress can make the symptoms worse, while listening to music may help reduce his tremors. Aside from the daily physical activities recommended by his doctor, encourage the patient to exercise his face muscles, mouth, and jaw. Activities like singing or reading out loud or making faces can be good forms of facial exercises.

How to Cope with Caring for a Person with Parkinson’s Disease

Caring for a person with Parkinson’s disease is not an easy task. So much is required from you – you educate yourself about the disease, you help the patient maintain his quality of life, you keep track of scheduled check-ups, tests, and doctor’s appointment; and you offer the emotional support the patient needs to get through the hardships of Parkinson’s disease. All these can be a lot to take in for a person who does this daily. These set of tips aim to help you help you patient even better:

  1. Have time for yourself. Make sure that you allow yourself to rest and find time to relax. You do not have to do everything on your own 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Get help from friends, loved ones, or other caregivers to assist you in providing care for the patient. You will be at your best if are well-rested.
  2. Learn as much as you can about the disease. If you know more about Parkinson’s disease, you will find it easier to understand what your patient is going through. He will have bad days – mostly out of frustration that he is no longer able to do the things he did before. Knowing more about the disease will help you empathize with him better. You will also be better in responding to his needs and helping ease his suffering whenever symptoms badly occur.
  3. Let the patient participate. You may want to do things on your own to make things faster, but it would be beneficial for both of you and the patient to let him help. You will have lesser load, while he gets to engage himself in activities.
  4. Do not put your life on hold. Continue to go out, meet with your friends, enjoy your hobbies. Basically, retain your normal schedule as much as possible. Work-life balance is very important not only to make you feel energized, but as well as to not make you feel resentful.
  5. Have someone to talk to. Part of your job as a caregiver is to be there for your patient, give him support in daily tasks and on what he goes through emotionally. However, you also need someone to support you. It is crucial to offload whatever heavy emotions you might be carrying from taking care of a sick person every day. You might think that you are strong enough to handle this, but truth it, it will get to you eventually. The physical tiredness and the pity you feel for your patient will bug you down. So, just talk to someone – a family member, a friend, or a support group. Knowing that someone is in a similar situation and that you are not alone can help you feel validated and understood.

Allie Leon, Chief Fun Officer

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