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Helping a Loved One Manage Parkinson’s Disease

With the aging of our population, more people are living with Parkinson’s disease. Today, an estimated 1 million people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson’s, and it is diagnosed in another 50,000 people each year.


What is Parkinson’s disease?


Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a disorder of the brain that affects the transmission of messages to the muscles. When a person has PD, there is damage to the part of the brain that produces dopamine, an important chemical that allows the muscles to operate properly. The causes of PD are not entirely understood. Scientists continue to learn about genetic and environmental factors that come into play.


What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

  • Tremor - trembling or involuntary movement of hands, arms, legs or face.

  • Rigidity - muscles are tense and contracted. It’s hard to move the arms and legs,

  • Slowness of body movement - the person might experience a slow, shuffling gait.

  • Balance problems - Postural instability makes it hard to sit/stand up straight, raising the fall risk.

  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing - muscles that help us eat may be affected, which can lead to drooling, choking and pneumonia.

  • Speech difficulties - speech may be slow and expressionless.

  • Non-motor symptoms - some symptoms of PD do not involve movement. A person may experience depression and other emotional changes, sleep disruptions, thinking or memory problems, and other personality changes.


How is Parkinson’s disease diagnosed?


There currently are no definitive tests to confirm the diagnosis, which is instead based on observation of the person’s symptoms and on their medical history. The doctor may order laboratory tests and brain scans, but those are to rule out other diseases that might be causing the symptoms — neither helps in diagnosing PD.  


Further complicating diagnosis, other neurological disorders also cause similar movement problems. These are referred to as parkinsonisms, and include certain brain diseases, stroke, abnormal fluid on the brain, head injuries, or the effects of drugs and alcohol.  Medication and other treatments for PD will not help if a patient has one of these other conditions — and vice versa. So, a correct diagnosis is very important, even if the answer isn’t readily clear.


Can Parkinson’s disease be cured or treated?


As of yet, there is no cure for PD. But treatments can reduce symptoms significantly. Treatment is individualized to each patient, and might include:

  • Medications                                                       

  • Rehabilitation therapies                                      

  • Surgery

  • Lifestyle changes                                           


The role of family and friends


“Experts say a support system of family and friends raises the odds of the best management of PD,” says Rob Hoffman, President, Right at Home of Longwood/Lake Mary. “If you are part of that support system, you will likely be involved in your loved one’s journey with PD.”


Your role might include:


Support during the diagnosis process and establishing treatment. Confirming that your loved one has PD and determining the best treatment strategy may require numerous appointments with the doctor and specialists. Your support helps ensure questions answered, doctor’s instructions understood and follow-up appointments kept.


Encouragement and support for treatment. The medical regimen for PD has a lot of components. Plus, your loved one might be dealing with other health conditions as well. You’ll likely continue to help your loved one remember their appointments, as well as taking medications as directed and following other recommendations.


Day-to-day life. As the disease progresses, your loved one may need assistance with daily activities and staying active and connected in the community. “You may be called upon to help with personal care and grooming, make home safety adaptations, assist with the insurance company, other financial matters, and long-term care planning,” says Hoffman.


Transportation. Many people with PD can continue to drive for some time. But if physical and mental changes and/or the side effects of medications mean your loved one is unsafe behind the wheel; you may be called upon to provide rides or help your loved one access appropriate public transportation.


Emotional support. Dealing with PD can take a toll on a patient’s emotions, leading to depression and anxiety. PD can cause a change in a person’s thinking and emotions, and their ability to communicate. Your support can help your loved one cope; individual or family counseling can help.


Family caregivers face challenges


As they’re helping their loved one manage PD, family often lose sight of their own health and well-being. They might be juggling work duties and other family responsibilities with their loved one’s care. And often they are dealing with emotional pain of their own. As their loved one’s condition changes, spouses and children evolve into the caregiver role. PD also changes the way patients communicate, so family must learn new ways to connect.


Home care is a great support resource


“Many families find that enlisting the help of trained, professional in-home caregivers is the perfect way to keep their loved one with PD on track with their medical routine, and safe and well at home,” says Hoffman. A caregiver can provide:


Assistance with personal care                                  Transportation

Grocery shopping and meal preparation                  Supervision and encouragement for exercise

Appointment and medication reminders                   Respite care for family caregivers

                    Companionship to help clients avoid social isolation and depression.


And here’s another important role professional home care plays, “Right at Home caregivers help normalize family dynamics,” reports Hoffman. “When a trained caregiver assists with sensitive care tasks, this lowers family stress and lets the person with PD and the family focus on things they enjoy together.”


The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about the diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease.


About Right at Home


Founded in 1995, Right at Home offers in-home companionship and personal care to seniors and adults with disabilities who want to continue to live independently. Most Right at Home offices are independently owned and operated and directly employ and supervise all caregiving staff, each of whom is thoroughly screened, trained, and bonded/insured prior to entering a client’s home. Right at Home’s Global Headquarters is based in Omaha, Nebraska, with more than 500 franchise locations in the U.S. and seven other countries. For more information on Right at Home, visit


About Right at Home of Longwood/Lake Mary:

The Longwood/Lake Mary office of Right at Home is a locally owned and operated franchise office of Right at Home, LLC, serving Seminole and Orange counties. For more information, contact Right at Home of Longwood/Lake Mary at , by phone at 321.295.7849 or by email at

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