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Living with Parkinson's Disease

Coping with Parkinson's disease, the motor system disorder, can be frustrating because of its common symptoms—trembling, stiffness (often called rigidity), slow movements, and the loss of balance and coordination. A good deal of that frustration comes from the loss of control that you once had over your body. It can also be emotionally overwhelming to know that there is currently no cure for the disease.

Nonetheless, people have a number of tools at their disposal for better managing the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and living a healthy, enjoyable life. Here's what can help.

Eat smart

Eating a healthy, balanced diet and drinking plenty of water are important for everybody, but especially when you have Parkinson's disease. That's because people with Parkinson's are more likely to get bone fractures from falling, suffer from constipation, or have difficulty maintaining their weight. Staying hydrated and getting the best possible nutrition through fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein can help to counteract these effects.

Stay on top of your medication

Medication for Parkinson's disease has come a long way. Often a combination of drugs is successful in replacing the naturally occurring brain chemical dopamine that is in short supply when you have Parkinson's. Certain drugs improve only certain symptoms, and you'll want to work with your doctor to find the best combination for you. Know that as the disease progresses, you may need to try other drugs and other combinations of drugs.

A treatment called deep brain stimulation, approved by the FDA, seems to provide additional relief for some people. It involves implanting a small electrical device in the brain that can ease Parkinson's symptoms.

Talk with your doctor about which of these options might be the right treatment approach for you.

Work with an occupational therapist

An occupational therapist is an important member of your treatment team. Working closely with this medical professional will help improve your quality of life. An occupational therapist will typically meet with you in your home, review your daily routine, and provide you with techniques and tools that will help you carry out your activities of daily living more effectively, even with the challenges presented by your illness.

Get daily living aids that can help you stay independent

Among the tools that an occupational therapist might recommend are railings around your toilet and bathtub, a seat to use in the tub or shower, a pump soap dispenser instead of bar soap, an electric toothbrush and razor, a cordless phone that you can carry around with you, nonskid socks and Velcro-closure shoes, and an appropriate cane, walker, rollator or wheelchair to help you move around effectively.

Get a good night's sleep

Studies show that about three in four people with Parkinson's also have sleep problems, but it's crucial to your overall health to get a good night's sleep. Try strategies like creating a relaxing bedtime routine, going to bed at the same time every night, making your bedroom comfortable, dark and cool, and avoiding stimulants, such caffeine, alcohol, exercise and even watching TV, right before bedtime. If you are still having sleep problems, ask your doctor for a referral to a sleep specialist.

Take care of your mental health

About half of all people with Parkinson's deal with some sort of mood disturbance, such as depression or anxiety, at some point. These mental disorders will only further compound the problems of Parkinson's, so it's critical to get needed treatment, possibly medication or counseling from a mental health professional.

Have an educated helper

Most people with Parkinson's disease need the help of one or more caregivers to get through the day. If you are a caregiver, one of the most important things you can do is read up on Parkinson's disease, so that you can understand what your loved one is going through. Also, be involved by attending doctor's appointments and therapy sessions. Often, these professional health care providers will have tips and advice for the caregiver as well as the person living with the disease.