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Coping With a Loved One’s Crisis While Living With Parkinson’s Disease

Coping With a Loved One’s Crisis While Living With Parkinson’s Disease

Working in an acute care hospital as a medical social worker, it was part of my job to help deliver bad news to patients and their families and help them cope with crisis alongside the medical team. On a bright Autumn day while the leaves were glistening but still tethered to tree limbs, I was called to a patient’s room for such a circumstance.

The family was known to me from prior admissions and as we greeted they recalled the remembrance of past conversations. They were there to tend to their father who had been admitted after a fall. At rounds earlier in the morning, I had learned that there was an incidental finding on the lungs suspicious for cancer. The testing would take place that day and results would be pending, meaning they would take about a week to come back. Our goal during the meeting was to share with the family the findings and plan for care.

Multiple health issues

This would be enough to occur within the family if there was not already an additional health crisis. The patient’s wife had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years ago and was already displaying symptoms. She was quite well functioning in general with stable mobility, no need for assistive devices, and living independently at home with the support of children. She displayed minor gait shuffling, tremor and a masked face.

During our conversation, due to her masked face symptom, I regularly asked her how she was processing the unexpected news. I was in awe of how gracefully she replied and shared her emotional experience and understanding. Her daughters were present and shared with me afterwards their concern for the potential new cancer diagnosis in additional to the fall and how it may impact their mother. During our conversation I made sure to highlight a few points that I’ll share with you now. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for multiple health issues in families to occur and it can be helpful to learn strategies to cope.

Make use of already existing supports

If one is already in a support group, keep going. While some groups may have limits on the topics shared, others can be more open-ended and be a place to include additional family issues occurring. For this patient’s wife, whom I’ll call Barb*, she attended a group monthly at our hospital specifically for people living with Parkinson’s disease and her husband attended a support group for caregivers that occurred at the same time.

Gather more support

Dealing with an additional health crisis may bring upon feelings of shame or the desire to isolate. This is a time to do the opposite of that urge and share with trusted others that you may need more physical or emotional support. For Barb, her husband helped around the house more since her PD dx and for her she knew it would be important to ask friends to help tidy or even hire a housekeeper to come in occasionally.

Rely on your medical team

Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions. Medical encounters are sometimes brief these days given the culture of medicine, however, this does not mean that you need to feel rushed out of asking important questions. For Barb and her family, knowing when the results of the test would be back was an important question. Also equally important was learning what would be the impact of the fall on her husband’s mobility. Would he need rehab conducted at home or at a facility? If you tend to be someone who shies away from questions, consider asking a family member or close friend to help you advocate. If you’re in a hospital system that includes social workers as part of the team, use them. I loved advocating for patients and helping their voice be heard. That was a part of my training I absolutely used on a regular basis.

Be kind to yourself

There can be a temptation in dealing with family crisis to neglect one’s own needs. This is natural, however, it can be dangerous while living with PD. Now is the time to set reminders to take necessary pills or make medical appointments. Additionally, consider adding in an act of self-care such as reading a good book, watching a favorite TV show, or spending time outside. However small the act, it shows that you are remembering yourself, caring for yourself, and therefore will be better equipped to handle the crisis situation. It can be tough, to say the very least, to deal with a crisis when there is already a Parkinson’s diagnosis. It would be preferred if we all got our quota of crisis and then no more but, unfortunately life regularly throws curve balls. How have you handled family crisis on top of living with Parkinson’s or caring for a loved one? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

*Names and details changed to protect privacy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Michael Church
    1 year ago

    Great article and good advice. This coming from someone who is both a care provider and person living with Parkinson’s.

  • Brooke Huminski author
    11 months ago

    Thank you Michael! Your feedback means a lot!!

  • mam2377
    1 year ago

    In the summer of 2017, our daughter, while riding a small motorcycle, was sideswiped. Since she was not wearing a helmet, she sustained severe brain trauma and died four days later. Her sister,her 15 year old son, her 5 year old son, and six men friends of the family spent most of those days with me at the hospital, planning her organ donation. After her death, my husband and I researched and planned her cremation and memorial service. Frankly, I don’t remember dealing with my Parkinson’s; I think I was just so involved in decisions, research, making sure the 5 year old, whom we are raising, was cared for and included that I didn’t think or worry about myself. My husband had just gotten out of the hospital due to a heart attack when we received the news of our daughter’s accident. I think I was just on autopilot.

  • Dan Glass moderator
    2 weeks ago

    Thank you for sharing your story. Sometimes it’s amazing what we can do when we know we need to be there in the moment. I am sorry you had to go through it, but thank you for being there for your family in this time. Dan moderator

  • doreen009
    1 year ago

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been living with PD for approximately five years. Although I try to be positive, I constantly live in fear of the future— for myself and (even more so) for my dear husband who has been suffering with multiple chronic health problems for years. He has a genetic disease (Autosomal Polycystic Kidney Disease) that has many other health problems attached to it and that has no cure and eventually will require Dialysis (he’s getting very close to this). He also has chronic really bad back problems for which there is little relief. Living with this is an emotional roller-coaster ride and has been for the last decade. But now, and since my PD diagnosis, it is almost overwhelming. I need someone to help care for me. And he needs someone to care for him (even more so). We have been so close for our decades together plus we’ve moved a number of times so we don’t have a large group of family and friends who could help. We do have some help come in twice per week and we are very thankful for that. I can still drive. He can still drive. It is so complicated in so many ways— it would take a lot of room to explain it all. I do belong to a wonderful support group locally but I would love a support group that would deal with this issue specifically. Our PD support group has a caregivers’ group but it is Only for someone who is a caregiver for someone with Parkinson’s and Not a Parkinson’s person who needs to care for someone else. So that’s enough for now. Just thought I would reach out to see if anyone had any suggestions, information, etc….thank you

  • Dan Glass moderator
    2 weeks ago

    I see that you posted this a year ago. Have you been able to find someone or something to help you both through all of this, beyond what you were able to receive? I hope so, and I hope that things are going better for you. Dan moderator

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