Parkinson’s affects the body by interrupting your sleep patterns, changing your posture, and limiting movement, and balance. But there are things you can do…

How Parkinson’s affects the body, and what you can do to help

It is possible to live a long and fulfilling life with Parkinson’s, even if the future seems bleak. The symptoms can often be controlled with medication and there’s plenty that you can do to help yourself.

The importance of self-care

Your GP or neurologist can tweak your medication and help you find sources of support, but when you have a degenerative condition you really are the expert on your body. Get in tune with your own health. If you’re having a bad day, think about what could have triggered it.

Sara Riggare, who noticed early symptoms of Parkinson’s at the age of 13, has discovered that using her own knowledge and experience together with the guidance from her doctor helps her manage this difficult condition as well as possible:

Self-care is so important. I am the only person with the whole picture. To me, self-care is everything I do to stay as healthy as possible with a disease that is a difficult life companion. It entails everything from making sure I take my medication in the optimal way, to eating healthily, getting enough sleep, to making sure I stay physically active.

Knowledge is power

Googling can be frightening, and when you’ve received a distressing diagnosis it can be tempting to bury your head in the sand. But discovering more about Parkinson’s can be a positive step, helping you uncover the best ways to optimise your health and control your symptoms.

For more information about Parkinson’s disease; the history, causes, treatments and more, see Parkinson’s: A Deeper Dive

Look into Parkinson’s UK’s self-management programme.

The free group sessions are an opportunity to share experiences and chat about the physical, practical and emotional impacts of Parkinson’s. They should leave you informed, positive and more confident about coping with your condition.

Rest and recovery

A good night’s sleep can boost your energy and your function, but sleep problems are common in Parkinson’s, leaving you tired and weak. If you’re struggling to sleep, try these tips to improve your sleep hygiene:

  •      Cut out caffeine: Caffeine in tea, cola and coffee can stop you falling asleep. Switch to water, camomile tea or decaf alternatives.
  •      Bed is for sleeping: Try and spend less time awake in bed, so try and go to bed only when you’re feeling sleepy and don’t watch TV or look at screens in bed, as the light and action is too stimulating.
  •      Regular routines: Avoid lazy lie ins, instead get up at the same time every day and keep to a regular bedtime. Your in-built body clock will start to respond to this routine.
  •      Herbal help: Try popping a little dried lavender in a muslin bag under your pillow to aid relaxation.
  •      Bath salts: A bath just before bed with a scoop of Epsom salts can really help to free-up your muscles and help you unwind.
  •      Mindfulness and meditation: Stress, anxiety and depression can make it tricky to sleep. Sleep apps like ‘Sleep’ or ‘Digipill’ may help you drop off, or you may want to consider some therapy like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). Scientific studies have shown that although it doesn’t work as quickly as sleeping tablets, it has longer lasting effects on your sleep.
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Staying active

When movement is difficult, it can seem easier to sit on the sofa and watch TV, but staying active is good for your general health and your Parkinson’s. A walk in the open air can make all the difference to your mood and your movement, try a fit-bit or other monitor to motivate you to keep going.

Yoga can improve gait, flexibility and muscle force and improve your mood. There have been few scientific studies in people with Parkinson’s, but early research suggests that yoga can help to reduce symptoms, and help you cope with stress.

Parkinson’s can affect your balance, leading to trips and falls. Regular Tai Chi sessions have been shown to be safe and manageable in people with Parkinson’s and research shows that it can improve postural stability and potentially prevent accidents.

Posture and position

The interruption of automatic muscle signals from the brain, and the stiffness of Parkinson’s, mean that many people develop a stooped posture. This can make social interaction, movement and dribbling worse.

Concentrate on staying upright, check your position in a mirror and tryregular exercises to maintain your posture. If you’re struggling, a physiotherapist or Alexander Technique practitioner may help.

Complementary therapies and Parkinson’s

There is mixed research evidence about complementary therapies in Parkinson’s, but many people report real benefits. In many ways, it makes sense; any therapy that relaxes and empowers the individual will also boost wellbeing.

Massage: Parkinson’s is characterised by muscle stiffness and spasms. Many patients notice an improvement in stiffness, posture and pain after massage therapy. Research indicates that individuals may also feel more confident and find that they’re able to move more quickly.

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Acupuncture: Acupuncture is an ancient system of healing that treats the whole person. It is believed to improve general wellbeing and restore natural balance. Acupuncturists insert fine needles into the skin to encourage the body to heal itself. Some research suggests that acupuncture may soothe some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s and improve mobility.

Supplements: A number of supplements have been promoted as protecting the nervous system in Parkinson’s. Sadly, many of these including Vitamin E and Coenzyme Q10 have proved ineffective after further research.

However, some supplements may be more promising. Ginseng has traditionally been used in eastern cultures as an anti-inflammatory, as well as reducing fatigue and improving mental function. Ginko Biloba has also been used for centuries and recent research shows that it blocks the enzyme that breaks down dopamine, increasing levels in the body. The neuroprotective qualities of both of these supplements have been demonstrated in animal tests, and we await further research with interest.

Find out more:

If you are experiencing difficulty coping with Parkinson’s disease, or if you are providing care for a loved one, HomeTouch can help. HomeTouch is an introductory agency, helping you to find pre-approved and vetted self-employed carers in your local area. Our model keeps costs lower than traditional agencies, while we pay our carers more. This leads to sustainable long-term relationships between carer and those requiring care, and keeps the control in your hands.


Complementary and Alternative Management of Parkinson’s

Dr Jane Gilbert

Jane has over 20 years’ experience as a health writer and TV presenter. Jane writes on a wide variety of clinical and care topics – from explaining the latest studies and research to unpacking conditions and discussing treatment options. Jane holds a MBBS degree from Imperial College, London and spent seven years working in the NHS.

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