You don’t have to have Parkinson’s to slip and fall, but if you have PD, it is more likely, especially in winter, that you need to take extra precautions. If you live in a cold or icy climate there are even more considerations to take into account. In winter it gets darker earlier, the weather can be cold and general outdoor conditions can change suddenly, and be more hazardous.
Increased risk of falling
People with Parkinson’s have an increased risk of falling. Dyskinesia (abnormal or impairment of voluntary movement), unstable gait, blurry vision or difficulty with depth perception can all contribute to unsteadiness.1 The motor symptoms associated with PD can be affected by weather, disease progression, age, medication (increased levodopa dosage), and cognitive or sleep disturbances. In the winter these can be exacerbated.
At holiday time so many of us feel under increased stress.2 Schedules are full, there are many social obligations, and routines are subject to change. For people with PD, staying on routine is so important. Changes in diet to enjoy holiday goodies or have a celebratory drink, and extra travel can trigger flare-ups in PD symptoms.
Many people with Parkinson’s disease can continue to drive safely.3-5 However, risks can increase during the winter months.5 Sudden changes in weather, wind, and darkness can affect your ability to get around. If you have vision problems in low light then plan winter driving to be home by mid-afternoon. If you must drive, try to eliminate distractions. Avoid driving after dusk, take familiar routes and stay off the phone. Keep an emergency kit in your car which includes water, a blanket, cereal or protein bars, and flares.
A good guideline is if conditions are such that you might slip or fall if walking, do not drive. Ask for assistance. Rideshare or public transportation can be good options. Car-pooling to work or for other activities can be seasonal instead of daily or weekly. You can do your share of the driving during the warmer months which have extended daylight.
People with PD are naturally at risk for depression.1,2,5 Decreased light can also lead to seasonal affective disorder. If you experience a change in thoughts, mood or behavior don’t hesitate to reach out to your medical team to talk it through. They might have recommendations for support and a possible change or adjustment in medications. Isolation is also a risk factor for people with PD. Travel conditions can make it hard to get around, but make sure to try to keep up regular activities throughout the winter.
Prepare your home and car, and get into the winter mindset to make life easier.2,6 Exercise is important for people with Parkinson’s. If you usually walk outside, the winter is a good time to try exercising indoors. When going out, wear shoes with good traction and allow yourself extra time to get where you need to go.
Consider using a walking aid, a cane, a rollator or walker to help balance.5
Rearrange furniture in your office or home to minimize the challenges of walking around when it is dark. Get someone to help clear walkways of snow and ice.
Always have extra food, water, and medications on hand during the winter months.1,2,6 Electricity can go out so it’s good to have back up. A generator or extra batteries can help, if feasible and helpful in your situation. Always keep your mobile phone charged, and flashlights in locations that are easy to remember. Another tip is to write essential things down on paper, so as not to rely on a smartphone or computer in case there is no power. These could include medications you take, phone numbers for a doctor’s office, and neighbors who can assist in an emergency.
Remember that during a winter storm, you may need to be self-sufficient for temporary periods while needed assistance is on the way. A good plan is the best tip of all because it will help you remain calm when forces of nature interfere with normal routines.
Remember your routine: take your medication, exercise, and eat right to help you stay safe.
Wallis, A. Tips for Daily Living: Preparing for Winter with Parkinson’s Disease. Available at: https://www.parkinson.org/blog/tips/preparing-for-winter. Accessed 12.3.18
Ryerson, N. 10 Tips for a Healthy Winter with Parkinson’s Disease. Available at: https://www.michaeljfox.org/foundation/news-detail.php?10-tips-for-healthy-winter-with-parkinson-disease. Accessed 12.3.18.
Driving. Available at: https://www.parkinson.org/Living-with-Parkinsons/Managing-Parkinsons/Activities-of-Daily-Living/Driving. Accessed 11.3.18.
Be Prepared for Winter Driving. Available at: https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/winter/driving. Accessed 11.4.18.
Reducing Fall Risk with Parkinson’s. Available at: https://parkinsonsdisease.net/living-with-pd/reduce-fall-risk/. Accessed 11.3.18.
Be Prepared to Stay Safe and Healthy in Winter. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/features/winterweather/index.html. Accessed 11.4.18.