Our caregiver support group was fortunate this month to hear from Cheryl Siefert, Executive Director of the Parkinson Association of the Rockies. Cheryl spoke about the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and, most importantly for this group, gave tips for dealing with symptoms. She provided very helpful demonstrations and examples, as she explained what Parkinson’s is and what it looks like on a day to day basis.
Dealing with Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s is one of a group of conditions called “movement disorders”, along with Multiple Sclerosis and PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy). Parkinson’s occurs when there is a disruption in the dopamine production in the brain. This affects the brain’s ability to monitor slow muscle movements. Slow muscle movements encompass a range of abilities from making facial expressions to controlling gait.
There are ways to deal with many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s, according to Cheryl. Some of the useful examples she offered included:
People with Parkinson’s may find that their gait changes. This can include “freezing” or shuffling in place without moving forward, especially in narrow spaces and crowded situations. Visual cues and verbal cues can help with this. Focusing on stepping over a physical object just a bit ahead can get a person moving. Verbal rhythms and even music can provide a cadence that spur forward movement. Cheryl also described a special walker (U-step) with a laser that creates a red line to act as the visual cue. (Contact the Parkinson Association of the Rockies for more information.)
Facial expressions and speech
A deterioration in small muscle movement can also lead to frozen facial expressions and quiet, slow speech. One clever solution that is being tried is a device that is placed in the ear to produce white noise. The extra noise naturally causes the person wearing the device to speak louder. Some people have also used voice amplifiers. Additionally, LSVT® voice therapy has proven successful in helping many individuals with Parkinson’s improve their speech.
Parkinson’s can affect cognitive function in certain ways. This differs from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in terms of the onset Those with Parkinson’s won’t initially forget information, but may have trouble organizing it. Keeping lists can be helpful. Individuals with Parkinson’s may experience hallucatintions, delusions and depression. If experiencing these symptoms the first step to take is to examine the medications being taken to determine if any one or a combination of may be causing these symptoms. There is a new medication on the market to treat Parkinson’s hallucinations and delusions, Nuplazid.
Keep going – physically and mentally
Cheryl emphasized that exercise is key. Those who keep moving improve their symptoms, but it takes regular effort. The Parkinson’s Association of the Rockies offers many exercise classes every week in multiple locations around the metro area, but even daily walking has a big impact. It has been shown repeatedly that exercise makes both immediate and longer-term improvement in symptoms. Some research even suggests that exercise may have an effect on the progression of the disease itself.
The final tip of the day was that attitude changes everything. Those who take charge of their situation early and don’t give up are the ones who fare best. Many people with Parkinson’s live for decades after their diagnosis. With this in mind, it is very important to understand that there are ways to improve life with Parkinson’s. Taking the right steps can mean years of improved quality of life.
The session wrapped up with questions and discussion that could have gone on for much longer. Cheryl is a great resource for the group and we were grateful for the chance to tap her expertise for a morning.
The caregiver support group meets once a month for the families and caregivers of our Adult Day participants. In some cases, these programs are open to the public. Check our calendar monthly or with the front desk at the Adult Day program to find out what is coming up next.