Parkinson's disease: Symptoms, challenges and patient/caregiver connection
The Caregiver's Role in Parkinson's Disease Treatment and Care
As a Parkinson's disease caregiver, you are the medical team's eyes and ears, letting them know whether your loved one's Parkinson's disease treatment is working or needs to be changed.
By Dennis Thompson Jr.
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Parkinson's disease is a highly individualized disorder, in which no two people have the exact same symptoms. As a caregiver, you are witness to what your loved one is going through — that puts you in the perfect spot to communicate those symptoms effectively to the patient's neurologist or primary care doctor. By doing so, you can make a tremendous contribution to your loved one's Parkinson's disease treatment.
It goes the other way, too. You also can help execute the doctor's Parkinson's disease treatment plan by making sure the patient takes medication on time and completes all necessary exercises.
Caregivers and Parkinson's Disease: Monitoring Parkinson's Medication
Parkinson's disease is a chronic neurological disorder with no known cure. Medical experts have come up with Parkinson's disease treatments that effectively alleviate symptoms, but the patient you're caring for may need your help keeping up with them.
Parkinson's medication works on the biochemistry of the brain — very precise dosages must be delivered at precise times. Taking Parkinson's medication even a few minutes late can result in debilitating symptoms like muscle rigidity and tremors.
On top of that, Parkinson's patients might take other drugs to deal with issues like depression and sleeplessness. The patient faces the prospect of taking many different drugs at varying times, and even a minor slip in dosing could cause symptoms to re-emerge. You can do your loved one a huge service by crafting a schedule for all the medications she takes, and making sure she sticks to the plan.
Caregivers and Parkinson's Disease: Monitoring Exercise and Physical Therapy
New research has found that exercise might be very valuable to people with Parkinson's disease — perhaps even as beneficial as medication. Exercise helps keep the muscles and joints limber and appears to promote neurological health in Parkinson's patients. In addition, physical therapy can help your loved one maintain independence for as long as possible. You can help by assisting with her home-exercise program or getting her to physical therapy on a regular basis.
Caregivers and Parkinson's Disease: What to Watch For
Caregivers serve an invaluable role as the doctor's day-to-day eyes and ears. As a caregiver, you should watch out for the following:
- Any increase in symptoms.If your loved one is taking her medication properly but the number or severity of her symptoms is increasing, you need to report it to her doctor. She might need to be put on different Parkinson's medication or she may need to take a higher dose of her current Parkinson's medication. Specific symptoms you should watch for include tremors (uncontrollable shaking) and rigidity (trouble moving the limbs). You also should tell the doctor if your loved one is having problems walking, talking, swallowing, or remembering information.
- Changes in mood.Depression is a problem for at least half of all Parkinson's patients — it's so prevalent that doctors suspect depression might be a true symptom of the disease. Patients also are known to suffer from periods of denial, anxiety, and stress. You should pay attention to these moods and talk about them with your loved one and her doctor. The patient might benefit from antidepressant medication or from counseling.
- Sleep problems.Parkinson's patients tend to have a troubled relationship with sleep. The disease and their Parkinson's medication can make them incredibly drowsy during the day and then keep them up all night. Fatigue can worsen symptoms and prevent the person from focusing on their own well-being. If you notice your loved one isn't sleeping well, talk about it with her and her doctor. The doctor might prescribe a sleep aid or adjust her Parkinson's medication. You also can help by keeping the patient active during the day and by establishing a regular bedtime routine that promotes quality sleep.
And remember, your role as caregiver is vital to the well-being of your loved one. Your observations can help the doctor evaluate her Parkinson's disease treatments and decide whether they should be changed, which will undoubtedly help your loved one's situation.
Video: Parkinson's Disease Treatment -- Mayo Clinic
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