Most everyone has met a Parkinson’s patient; maybe a grandfather or grandmother, mother, or father, uncle, aunt or neighbor. Whoever it may be, the symptoms of slowed, difficult movement, stooped posture, fatigue, and lack of facial expression can have a negative impact on a person’s sense of well-being and health. Understanding the steps that can be taken by a patient and family member to help this person are vital to achieving positive outcomes for the person. Self-efficacy is the self-awareness and understanding that comes with knowing how to deal with a disease or condition that allows a person to continue to have a productive and fulfilling life. For Parkinson’s patients, knowing the role that nutrition, physical activity, sleep, and cognitive exercising has on the progression of the illness is vital to dealing with the disease in a way that achieves a sense of mastery over this chronic illness.
Parkinson’s patients benefit from a balanced diet containing a lot of fruits and vegetables and limiting protein intake. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to offer essential nutrients and minerals that preserve healthy nerve tissue, muscle and bone. It also promotes bowel regularity and avoids constipation that can be made worse by the disease and medications that treat Parkinson’s. Medications should be taken before or at mealtimes on a regularly scheduled basis. Weight loss may be a symptom of the disease and should be brought to the attention of the neurologist. Drinking plenty of water is imperative to overall digestion and hydration and helps with drops in blood pressure frequently seen in Parkinson’s patients..
Physical activity offers tremendous benefits to Parkinson’s symptoms and is a part of the treatment plan for the illness. Regular exercise can maintain and improve mobility, flexibility, balance and range of motion and can also help with symptoms of depression and insomnia that can occur as well. Using physical therapists to develop a routine and plan to exercise, along with incorporating a sporting interest is essential to managing the progression of the disease. Preventing falls, muscle wasting, and de-conditioning can keep a person healthy and functioning at the highest level possible.
The mind also needs exercising and this can be accomplished by engaging in social and cultural activities, reading, watching opera and theatre, writing to families, participating in clubs and organizations, playing card games, and doing crossword puzzles. Learning a new craft or hobby can open new thought processes and enhance thinking ability. Just like our bodies the mind needs to be challenged and exercised to make new connections ensuring its health.
Finally, the need for adequate sleep and rest is vital to managing Parkinson’s disease. Oftentimes, sleep patterns are disorganized years before other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease develop. Though this can be affected negatively, restful sleep is restorative to the body’s tissues and cells. All persons, no matter how old, need adequate sleep of 6 to 8 hours. Sleep hygiene is the concept that sleep is induced and sustained by avoiding disruptive and exhilarating activities before bedtime, limiting caffeine intake after noon time (includes teas, coffee, chocolate), and developing a regular bedtime routine. Getting a good night’s rest maintains and improves health and well being throughout all decades of life.
Michael M Tuchman, MD, FAAN
Vivian Carta Sanchez, NP