The following is our last Wise Living column of 2020. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to offer ideas and perhaps some solutions to readers’ concerns and questions. For more local news and interest, visit their website at https://gopresstimes.com.
Dear Wise Living,
My uncle suffers from Parkinson’s disease. I am one of his primary caregivers. Between his struggle with the disease along with the challenge that I have I caring for him, in addition to managing other life responsibilities, the stress on all fronts has reached a boiling point. We need some direction. Please help.
You most likely have heard that too much stress is bad for you. It certainly makes it tougher to manage chronic illnesses, like high blood pressure and diabetes. And for those individuals living with Parkinson’s, it is particularly tough on them and the family caregivers. A recent study from the CDC, that we highlighted in a recent blog post, discusses the impact that caregiving has on individuals. Missed visits to the doctor, disrupted sleep, lack of exercise and poor nutrition all contribute to the decline seen in caregivers. For those with Parkinson’s, cognitive impairments may worsen and the motor symptoms, tremor and gait disturbances can be exacerbated when under stress. In fact, there is experimental evidence to suggest that chronic stressful situations can damage part of the brain, like the hippocampus and other important areas of the brain affected by Parkinson’s disease.
So what do you do? Taking a break is an essential component of self-care for caregivers. As a caregiver, if you can’t leave the house for an extended break, even a short time in another room or a walk outside can be enough to help get recentered. Especially, if you are intentional about using that time to actively make an emotional shift. By taking slow deep breaths you can initiate the hard-wired relaxation response that helps to calm things down. Give it a try the next time you seem overwhelmed. Take slow deep breaths in and out for several minutes. If you are worried, frustrated or even angry, all the more reason to take those short breaks to address those draining feelings. While there is limited, well-crafted research on the effectiveness of stress reduction in Parkinson’s, emerging evidence does show benefits in other chronic conditions, like chronic pain, stroke, cardiovascular disease and cancer. There is no downside to practicing stress reduction techniques and it’s an activity that can be shared with others. When shared with someone else, it has the potential to improve a sense of connectedness. It isn’t easy getting away from the responsibilities associated with taking care of someone with Parkinson’s. That’s why it’s also important to have a team. Shouldering all the responsibilities is a Herculean task and will most likely take its toll over time. Neighbors, church members, friends and other family members can step up and help out. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Physical activity, a cornerstone of Parkinson’s care, is another area that has been shown to help with the depression and anxiety, which can be an important part of the disease. Of all the challenges individuals with Parkinson’s face, depression and anxiety are ranked at the top in terms of affecting quality of life. Lisa Pritzl, from Empowerment Dance in Green Bay provides classes specifically for those living with Parkinson’s Disease. She shared a recent study with me that documented the benefits of engaging in dance activities for those with Parkinson’s. Interestingly, one of the top benefits was an improvement in mood. Lisa shared that unlike other physical activities, dance can bring out an emotional component and connection not seen with other activities. Lisa started offering her classes online given the COVID restrictions and commented, “It has been a phenomenal experience to see what a virtual space can do”. She offered that there are people who would never consider going to a class that can now participate at home. If they want to, they can leave their camera off and still enjoy the benefits of movement and music. If you’re interested, you can find more information on the programming Lisa has put together at www.empowermentdance.com. After talking with Lisa, I can tell how much she enjoys what she is doing while also serving the community. That’s a double blessing any day of the week.
Dr. Ferguson is a physician, Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®, and Managing Director of IKOR in the Greater Green Bay area, passionately providing advocacy and life care management services to seniors and individuals with disabilities. Send your questions and comments for Wise Living to firstname.lastname@example.org