Originally Published Online

Understanding PD
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Self-Care in Parkinson’s Disease

What is meant by self-care? According to the World Health Organization,
self-care may be defined as “what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, prevent and deal with illness. “ Accordingly it encompasses “hygiene (general and personal), nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure etc.), environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.), socioeconomic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.) and self-medication.” I would further the concept to impact not only physical, but emotional and spiritual aspects of life as well.

The key to self-care in Parkinson’s disease and life in general is to establish a routine. Parkinson’s is a progressive, neurodegenerative illness 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 illnesses, even diet. Because of this vulnerable state we live in, routine is the best way to control certain variables. So try to:

(1) 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 dopamine stores as well.

Eat a healthy diet. Although there is no specific diet for Parkinson’s disease, malnourishment is a known complication of this illness which leads to poor physical health and poor quality of life. Therefore it is very important for your overall health to eat a well-balanced diet with protein redistribution if you find it interferes with absorption of your medication.

Get regular exercise. Exercise is key in Parkinson’s disease. It helps to prevent bone loss, improve stiffness, muscle strength, mobility and balance. And as for everyone else, it is vital for cardiac and pulmonary health.

Stimulate your mind. Just as physical exercise is important to keep your body strong, stimulating your mind is also imperative. 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.

Protect your self-care time. Not only is it important to optimize your physical health but your emotional, spiritual and inevitably, your life experience will benefit.