Thin man draws sheer curtain over a version of himself with large muscles holding weight above his head.

Setbacks of a Type A Personality and Parkinson’s

A small group of people with Parkinson’s get together via Zoom after our virtual exercise class. We were talking about how we felt and we all admitted we were having issues in achieving our exercise goals. Sometimes we were going so far or so hard that we actually hurt ourselves and found ourselves slipping backward. We are finding a high level of frustration in no longer being able to do what we used to do or to deal with physical setbacks.

While these complaints sound like all of us as we grow older, we found having that Parkinson’s and a certain personality type might be exacerbating the problems. As we continued to talk, we discovered we were, back in the day, all Type A personalities (more competitive, highly organized, ambitious, impatient, highly aware of time management, and perhaps aggressive). We admitted that we probably had not changed in our old age and with the onset of Parkinson’s.

Common personality traits

Delving a little deeper we realized many of the Type A descriptions that may have made us successful in our prior lives were no longer an asset with Parkinson’s.

Highly competitive - Being competitive while having Parkinson’s may cause you to exceed your now limited physical capabilities. The game should be about beating Parkinson’s and not beating someone else. Slowing down the progress of your symptoms is winning.

Highly organized - Parkinson’s causes a slowing of both physical and mental capabilities and the impact varies from day-to-day. Your highly organized plan for success is going to become a plan of accommodation and adaptability. This is an important factor in your exercise plan. Recognize that you may feel very different day-to-day and adjust accordingly.

Ambitious and Aggressive - As a Type A Personality, we set difficult goals and blew right through them with tenacity and strength. With Parkinson’s, our exercise goals are more like running in place with incremental gain and long plateaus. Plateaus can be very distressing and cause one to try to “breakthrough “ when one doesn’t have the resources.

Impatient and Time Management - We all worked in competitive roles where results were expected on time or earlier. Failure was not accepted! With Parkinson’s, our goals will probably take longer than we originally thought and our Type A response is going to be to try harder and faster, possibly resulting in physical breakdowns. Perhaps with Parkinson’s the slogan should be: “With pain comes no gain”.

Sometimes it really is time to sit back and smell the roses!

Setting realistic goals

If you’re a Type A personality with Parkinson’s, you should:

  • Take a breath
  • Recognize your new and changing physical limitations
  • Set realistic longer-term goals considering your changing symptoms and physical condition.
  • Set incremental goals you can revise on a day to day basis depending on how you feel on a given day.
  • Dial back your competitive urges and recognize the competition is with your Parkinson’s and not with anyone else.
  • Give yourself permission to occasionally have a setback. Pick yourself up and move on.

Now as I have a Type A personality, can I take my own advice to heart?

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