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Coping with Parkinson's Disease
Focusing on the emotional and psychological changes that someone with Parkinson's experiences can be just as important as the physical changes in understanding and living with the disease. Emotional factors that affect someone with Parkinson's can be seen as both internal and external. Some changes that occur can be directly due to the disease process itself, which causes an alteration in brain chemistry. Other emotional changes can be seen as influenced by external factors and the person's reaction to them. Having a chronic neurological condition is stressful, and people react to stress in different ways. Some people see it as a challenge and others as a problem.
Listed below are some common emotional reactions to Parkinson's, followed by suggestions for coping techniques.
Denial, a feeling of shock and disbelief and the question of "Why me?" are common reactions, especially at the time of initial diagnosis and early on in the disease process. Because Parkinson's can have such a subtle onset before an actual diagnosis is made, people very often attribute symptoms to other causes. People also sometimes report a general feeling of uneasiness or some anxious, depressed feelings prior to diagnosis. When a diagnosis is finally made it can come partially as a relief, but there is often shock and fear for the future.
Depression is one of the most common reactions to Parkinson's, occurring by some estimates in 50% of people with the disease. Some physicians feel that depression may actually be part of the disease process itself. Medications for Parkinson's can also affect the experience of depression.
Stress and chronic illness are interconnected. Stress comes from a variety of different sources that can be physical, as well as emotional. Stress can come from daily life tasks, events, problems, fatigue, anxiety and frustration with having to deal with the limitations and life adjustments that Parkinson's disease often creates. The important thing to be aware of, however, is that stress can worsen Parkinson's disease symptoms, especially tremor. Therefore, it is important to focus on stress management and relaxation in your daily life.
Although the disease may be out of your control, your attitude towards it is something you can control. It is important not to let the disease define who you are. Focus on all the other aspects of your life that are positive. Take stock of things to be grateful for each day. Avoid self-criticism for it only makes things worse.
Exercise has been found to be very helpful in minimizing the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, increasing mobility and improving quality of life. It can also be very emotionally beneficial. It has been found to help in improve a depressed or anxious mood. Consider trying yoga or Tai Chi, which are relaxing and improve flexibility and balance.
Connecting with other people who really know what it is like to have Parkinson's disease can be very helpful in coping. Support groups offer a safe place to talk about your feelings, questions and concerns and to get valuable information. There are many available Parkinson's support groups in the community that are free of charge.
Take Care of Yourself
Treatment for Parkinson's disease does not only involve medication. It also includes diet, exercise, support of family and friends and a healthy attitude. Be good to yourself, be patient with yourself and be a friend to yourself.
For More Information
The American Parkinson Disease Association Information and Referral Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center can provide referrals to resources and services in the community that can help in coping with Parkinson's disease. Call toll free Monday through Friday (877) 223-3277.