A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear my friend Paul give a talk. (Paul was one of the early pioneers of using yoga to help treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease – you can read more about that here on his website.) The title of the talk was, “Is the best model of Parkinson’s treatment the best model for everyone’s treatment?”
What an intriguing premise! I understand why Paul would ask that question, and in this blog post I’ll offer some reasons why he just might be right.
In the past decade or so, a consensus view has developed that people with Parkinson’s disease (PWPs), if at all possible, should be getting regular exercise. Walking, biking, strength training, swimming, yoga, group aerobics classes, tai chi, or many more – there are lots of good options, but the key is to do one or more of them, to do it enough to challenge your fitness and coordination, and to keep it up! I can’t count how many PWPs have told me that exercise and medications work together to provide benefits that neither could alone.
This is an obvious case of how Parkinson’s care is a good model for everyone – because the science shows that everybody should exercise! The demands made by PD on a person’s system may make it more urgent, but in fact, it’s very clear that everybody should be getting regular exercise. Although aging may require adopting gentler forms of exercise, it should not be an excuse to stop! Whether someone needs to use medications to treat a condition or not, our culture would do well if the emphasis on exercise that has developed in the Parkinson’s community spread to every community.
Pay close attention to your well-being
Because their brains and bodies are subject to such a difficult and unpredictable disease, PWPs learn to pay close attention to changes in themselves. Walking differently, a change in sleep patterns, an alteration in digestion, an odd sensation, a feeling of depression, a sudden sensitivity to cold – someone with Parkinson’s is likely to look at physical or psychological changes with close scrutiny, to try to determine whether or not they are symptoms of PD or changes in their disease progression. While such close self-attention can be taxing at first, (and can go into hypochondria if it goes overboard), ideally, over time, it starts to feel like a workable ongoing practice of self-care. Rather than letting symptoms worsen till they cause a crisis, PWPs try to respond early and effectively.
Attentive self-care is a practice that can benefit anyone. Whether we’re dealing with chronic back pain, heartburn, anxiety, or any number of other health issues, many of us would do well to apply to ourselves the level of self-awareness and responsive self-care which PWPs learn to apply to themselves.
Get help from family, friends, and community
I’ve met so many PWPs who have expressed a tremendous sense of gratitude and connection with their caregivers, families, doctors, exercise instructors, and PD support groups. Nobody would get Parkinson’s just to make friends, but making friends can be a very positive silver lining to having the disease. In some cases, facing the disease leads people with PD to make extraordinary efforts to help others with the disease through fundraising, volunteering, educating, group coordination, and more.
Here again, having support, friendship, and community is a critical part of anyone’s effort to maintain their health and wellbeing. That PWPs need help from each other, their families, and/or caregivers doesn’t demonstrate a weakness – it’s actually the kind of mutual support that we all ought to participate in!