June 30, 2021

Help with the day-to-day management of Parkinson’s disease

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These daily adjustments can help improve quality of life after a Parkinson’s diagnosis.

For people with Parkinson’s disease, taking steps to improve quality of life is important and this involves changes in your daily routine.

Planning activities for times you’ll feel your best, leaving plenty of time to complete tasks and taking breaks when you need them are all simple steps that can add up to make life more manageable for anyone diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

“Along with considering the adjustments below, it’s also important to know when to ask for help,” said Dr. Fenna Phibbs of Vanderbilt Neurology. “As Parkinson’s progresses, your health-care provider can refer you to an occupational therapist, who can help practice tasks of daily living.”

Until then, making these changes can improve quality of life:

Dressing Tips for anyone with Parkinson’s disease

To make dressing easier:

  • Sit down to dress. This helps prevent falls.
  • Choose clothes that are easy to put on and take off. Elastic waistbands and clothes that close in the front are good choices.
  • Add paper clips to zipper pulls. This makes them easier to grasp.
  • Choose shoes that are easy to wear. Wear shoes with hook and loop straps. Women should not wear high heels and men should avoid cowboy boots, Phibbs said.

Bathing and grooming

Loss of muscle control after a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis can make bathing and grooming a challenge. Try these tips:

  • Install safety items in the bathroom, such as grab bars, nonslip bathmats, and raised toilet seats.
  • Sit down to brush your teeth, shave, or dry your hair. This helps reduce the risk of falls.
  • Use liquid soap with a pump. Bar soap can be hard to hold.
  • Wear an absorbent robe to dry off if using towels is hard.

Eating and drinking

Try these tips at mealtime:

  • Choose foods that are easy to prepare and eat. Fresh fruits and vegetables make great snacks.
  • Try large-handled forks, spoons and knives if it’s hard to grip utensils. Spill-proof cups can help with drinking.
  • Tell your health-care provider if you have any problems swallowing.
  • Take small bites and small sips to prevent breathing food into your lungs. 

Constipation

Constipation is a very common problem with Parkinson’s disease. The tips below can help:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat foods that are high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A fiber supplement can also help.
  • Get regular exercise. (See some ideas below.)
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about laxatives or stool softeners.

Communicating

Over time, your voice may grow softer and less distinct. Your handwriting is also likely to become small and cramped. These tips can help you cope:

  • Breathe deeply before starting your sentences. Focus on speaking slowly and loudly. If needed, your health-care provider may refer you to a speech therapist.
  • Add a voice amplifier to your phone. This helps you be heard.
  • Try typing instead of writing. If this is a problem, consider using voice-activated software for computers.
  • Use foam grips on pens and pencils. These can make them easier to hold.

Sleeping

Many people with Parkinson’s have trouble sleeping. They may also move in their sleep and strike their partners. Tell your health-care provider if you’re having sleep problems or recurrent nightmares. Medicine can often help you sleep better. Check with your provider before using over-the-counter medicines to help you sleep. 

Getting out of bed

You may feel very stiff and slow in the morning. It often helps to take medicines before you get out of bed. Ask your health-care provider if you can use dissolvable pills or chew pills with water. This can help medicine work faster. Above all, remember to be patient and take your time.

Having sex

Having Parkinson’s doesn’t mean you can’t have a good sex life. Plan sex for the times of day when you’ll feel your best. Talk with your partner about your feelings. Your health-care provider can also find ways to help if you’re having problems with sexual function.

Exercising

These three exercises can help strengthen your muscles and keep them loose and flexible. Ask your health-care provider whether they’re right for you, and ask your provider or physical therapist for other suggestions.

Do the exercises once a day at first, then build up to several times a day. Exercise slowly, and rest if you feel pain.

Body twist:

  • Sit in a chair, facing forward. Place your hands on your shoulders.
  • Turn your head and body to the side as far as possible, as if you were trying to look behind you.
  • Return to starting position, then turn to the other side.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Seated march:

  • Sit in a chair, facing forward.
  • Slowly lift one knee as high as you can, then lower your foot to the floor.
  • Do the same with your other leg.
  • Repeat 10 times with each leg.

Back stretch:

  • Stand or sit with your back straight.
  • Hold your arms in front of you. Put your hands and elbows together, hands pointing toward the ceiling.
  • Move your arms apart as far as possible, pushing your shoulder blades together.
  • Slowly move your hands back together.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Knowing when to ask for help

If you have any of the following, it’s best to call your health-care provider:

  • Your symptoms suddenly get worse.
  • You have severe constipation.
  • You have trouble sleeping.
  • You have problems chewing or swallowing.
  • You often “freeze” (are unable to move your feet) or begin having falls.

Vanderbilt’s Movement Disorders Clinic provides advanced care to those experiencing involuntary and excess movement, impaired balance and coordination, muscle rigidity, slow movement or other symptoms. The clinic specializes in treating Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, tremors and spasticity resulting from stroke, multiple sclerosis and head injuries.

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Fenna T. Phibbs, M.D., MPH

Fenna T. Phibbs, M.D., MPH, is an assistant professor of neurology. She specializes in movement disorders, including Parkinson's disease, Tourette syndrome, Huntington's disease, dystonia and others.