A caregiver lends a hand to a patient as he walks with a cane next to another woman down a green path against a bright sunrise.

Can You Die From Parkinson's Disease?

The answer is no, not directly. Parkinson’s disease (PD) itself does not lead to death. PD develops slowly. Its symptoms may not seriously affect your abilities for many years. You have time to think about and plan for how you will handle it.1

However, you may worry about dying sooner than if you did not have PD. This is normal. Many scientists have studied how PD affects length of life. Some people live long lives with PD. Others do not. Length of life with PD depends on certain factors.1-4

Some studies report higher death rates for people with PD. However, PD was not always the main cause of death in these studies. People had other serious conditions at the same time. For example, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, or liver disease may have led to death. Other studies take that into consideration and report about when PD itself leads to a shorter life.1-5

We are going to look at reasons why PD symptoms might lead to a shorter life. We are also going to talk about ways to increase your chances of thriving with PD.

Why Parkinson’s disease might lead to a shorter life

Falling

In PD, muscle control declines. You may develop slower responses and an unstable balance. When standing or walking, your body may freeze up. Any of these may make falling more common. Falling can lead to serious head injuries and broken bones. Either can shorten your life, and more so as you age. A 2022 study showed that people with PD who fall a lot may die sooner.3

Trouble swallowing

When your tongue and neck muscles are weak or stiff, it is harder to swallow. Food may go down your airway. Weak breathing muscles may make it hard to cough up that food. Bits of food in your lungs can cause an infection called aspiration pneumonia. If you have PD, you may have over twice the risk of getting this infection. If you do get it, your chances of dying sooner increase.4,6

Thinking problems

The way PD affects your brain can make it harder to think the way you used to. This does not always happen. If it does, the trouble may increase over time. It may make everyday tasks difficult. It can also lead to PD dementia (PDD). A 2022 study found that people with PDD died within 5 years of diagnosis. A 2018 study showed that people with PD and even a mild mental dysfunction died within a decade.3,4

Other risk factors

Other PD symptoms have been shown to mark the possibility of earlier death. These are not directly related to muscle or mental decline. You might:3,4,6

  • See things that are not there (visual hallucinations)
  • Not be able to smell (hyposmia)
  • Have white blood cells in your spinal fluid

Some studies show other factors. Women with PD may live longer than men with PD. People with PD over the age of 65 may have shorter life spans. In the United States, more non-Hispanic white people with PD die versus people of other races and ethnicities with PD.3,4,6

What can you do to improve your chances of living longer?

Early diagnosis

Finding out early that you have PD is important for living longer. You can then work with your doctor to fight against PD symptoms. Many strategies can reduce and delay the way PD affects your body and mind.6-9

Living a healthy life

We all benefit from eating right and exercising. It is no different with PD. Importantly, with PD, healthy food and regular exercise help manage symptoms. Good diet and exercise can improve:6,9

  • Weakness
  • Physical and mental tiredness
  • Constipation

Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. Eat lean proteins and high-fiber whole grains. And drink plenty of water each day. Move as much as you can. Housework, yard work, outings, and walking all promote agility.6,9

Physical therapy

Physical therapy exercises can help you with:7

  • Balance
  • Ability to move
  • Strength

A trained physical therapist can help you prevent falls with balance exercises. They may recommend treadmill walking to increase your stride and speed. They may also suggest an elliptical machine to help your arms and legs work together. And they can show you stretching exercises to improve your range of motion and keep you flexible.7

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy can help you maintain your activities of daily life and prevent falls. For example, you can:8

  • Have someone move your furniture to allow ease of access
  • Put grab bars in the bathroom
  • Remove loose rugs
  • Install a bed rail
  • Get nonslip shoes
  • Use a walker

Emotional health

When you learn that you have PD, you may wonder how you will cope. You want to live the longest and best life that you can. There are things you can do to stay positive and create hope. Positivity and hope can decrease stress and increase length of life.9,10

Learn to handle the emotions that come with a PD diagnosis. Remind yourself that you can do hard things. You have done them before. Also, live simply. Do what you can and do what matters. Counseling, talking to loved ones, and even joining a PD support group can help.9

Top takeaways

  • Parkinson’s disease is not a death sentence.
  • Learn what puts you at risk for life-challenging conditions.
  • Learn how to combat those conditions.
  • Ask for help: physical therapy, occupational therapy, emotional therapy all can help.

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