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Self-Care for Parkinson’s

Self-care for Parkinson’s is important to help you manage your symptoms.

According to the World Health Organization, self-care can be defined as “what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, prevent and deal with illness.” As a physician I know how important self-care is for optimizing quality of life in the context of a chronic illness like Parkinson’s. But like others living with the challenges of this disease (in my case 21 years since my diagnosis) I also know that it takes a significant effort to prioritize one’s health in all areas. This include physical, mental and emotional health. And despite knowledge and good intentions, in the hectic pace of life, our to do lists, family’s needs and other responsibilities can often take precedent over our own care. But at what price?

Parkinson’s is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease and symptoms need to be addressed on a daily basis. Our symptom control is fairly fragile. There exists a fine balance between the effectiveness of our medications and the side effects we may experience. Any change can upset that balance – change in stress, sleep, other sickness, even diet. Because of this vulnerable state we live in, the key to living optimally with Parkinson’s disease is to establish a routine of self-care. Although individual routines will differ depending on needs and limitations, there are some general points to consider.

Stick to a regular sleep schedule

Sleep is a time of reprieve from the persistent movement that marks our tremors or dyskinesia and the relaxation of the stiffness that we experience. It is also thought that perhaps sleep is a time for replenishing remaining dopamine stores as well.

Eat a healthy diet

Malnourishment is a known complication of this illness which leads to poor physical health and poor quality of life. So it is very important for your overall health to eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet with protein redistribution if you find it interferes with absorption of your medication. (Learn more about nutrition for Parkinson’s on our website.)

Get regular exercise

Exercise is key and absolutely necessary in Parkinson’s disease! It helps to prevent bone loss, improve stiffness, muscle strength, mobility and balance. There are also undeniable benefits for cardiac and pulmonary health. You simply feel better. (Learn more about exercise for Parkinson’s on our website.)

Stimulate your mind

Just as physical exercise is important to keep your body strong, stimulating your mind is also important. Puzzles, games, formal online brain activities – all are great ways to keep your mind sharp and stimulated.

Take your medications on time

The timing of Parkinson’s medications is very important. Missed or delayed doses often will result in an increased off time or a break-through of your symptoms. Doses too close together will result in an increased risk for dyskinesias.

Don’t forget to relax

Between our life responsibilities and managing our symptoms, life can be busy and full of activity. But it’s important to work in some down time into your day, to allow your body to relax. Particularly since many people with Parkinson’s tend to sleep poorly, a short nap during the day may prove to be rejuvenating.

Mental relaxation

In the same spirit, it is important to relax your mind. This can be accomplished in many ways – sitting in quiet contemplation, reading, listening to music or something more formal like meditation.

Do what you love

Whether it’s your occupation or a hobby, pursuing interests that you love is vital. Try not to give those activities up as they are integral to your sense of satisfaction and well-being.

There are certain things that those of us with Parkinson’s must do in order to live well with this disease. Not only do we have to advocate to optimize our care from those health care professionals on our team but we have to recognize that a big part of managing this condition is being an active participant; controlling those variables that we do have control over. So establish and protect your self-care time. It will undoubtedly result in you being better able to face the challenges this disease brings.

Dr. Soania Mathur is a member of BGF’s medical advisory board and Parkinson’s advocate. Soania has written numerous articles about living with Parkinson’s and is the author of books to help people talk to their children about the disease. Soania is a speaker and serves on the boards of many Parkinson’s organizations.

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