My Problem with Parkinson's Disease and Spatial Awareness
Last updated: June 2023
We recently visited Jacksonville Beach, Florida, the home of The Tournament Players Club Sawgrass golf course (TPC Sawgrass) and the host of the Players Golf Tournament on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour. To describe it accurately, it was more of an "event" than a golf tournament. One of the many things that have changed for me in the presence of Parkinson's is spatial awareness.
What is spatial awareness>
Spatial awareness is the ability to recognize the objects around you and the awareness and ability to control your body and movements around these objects. In other words, spatial awareness or your visual-spatial ability, is understanding your surroundings and relative positions.1
Suppose you and your partner hike in the hills with mountains, trees, and streams to traverse. Your ability to avoid bumping into a tree as you walk through the dirt and rock trail is your spatial awareness working correctly. Stepping on rocks in a stream while you cross the swift-moving water is another example of your functioning spatial awareness. Not bounding into your partner while hiking is also mastering your spatial awareness.
The challenge of spatial awareness and crowds
The golf tournament differed from the hike mention above. In contrast to the nature walk, people replaced trees, and thousands went this way and headed that way. The golf paths were hilly and paved, and some trails were dirt and pine straw, but the presence of people everywhere was the actual test of spatial awareness.
No doubt, the situation created stress for me. No question the problem consumed available dopamine stores. Challenging my body to keep up, strive to keep going, and balance enjoying the excellent golf pros confronted by the stunning but complex golf course. Going from hole to hole, ensuring I did not bump into anyone, was always an important goal of mine.
Standing still at a green or a tee, surrounded by many others, was another challenge to my spatial awareness. All of us straining our bodies to maximize the view of the golfer and their shot, standing still for several minutes was a test I had to manage.
Trying not to bump into people
Walking with my spouse was always fun, although keeping up with her short, powerful strides was demanding. I only bumped into her once each day at the golf tournament. I scored all of these challenges to my spatial awareness as successes.
She also remarked that she had no idea this was an issue for me and that I hid it very well. I responded that being surrounded by this many people all day and trying not to bump into them as we traversed the golf course together was exhausting.
Adding in rigidity
One evening at dinner in Jacksonville Beach, I was tired from the day's exertion watching the golf tournament. We arrived at an overly crowded restaurant. As we walked up to a packed bar to get a drink before dinner, my body felt rigid, and my movements felt constricted. This situation was a severe challenge to my spatial awareness.
I finally relaxed only after sitting in the restaurant's corner, awaiting our table. When I did unwind, all was better, and my Frankenstein movements were gone. And I would no longer be perceived as awkward, unaware, and challenged.
The 4 Ps for managing spatial awareness issues
Maybe the difficulty of spatial awareness is something that all people with Parkinson's suffer through. Maybe it is a uniquely different problem I must deal with every day. But it is also something that I can control. I think I can improve, and I feel it is up to me to keep working on my spatial awareness.
There are likely many social, psychological, and medical approaches to improve spatial awareness. However, I want to be more involved and upfront to help improve this issue. Therefore, working on spatial awareness revolves around persistence and continuing the ordinary course of action despite the difficulty.
Working and practicing my spatial awareness does enhance my presence in the situation. This is a calming thought. And regardless of whether I bump into someone or stumble through my spouse, my perseverance in trying to achieve mastery of my spatial coordinates will continue to help me master my recognition of the space around me.
That's a win with Parkinson's
Having Parkinson's now, I have grown close to the brain and its unique ability to function and process information. Our brain's capacity to regulate our actions and everything we do, think, and respond to is fantastic.
For instance, the absence of dopamine in my brain now dictates that I improve my ability to navigate through a crowd. And this will be a lifelong issue of managing spatial awareness.
Finally, I was challenged to walk with enormous groups of people at the golf tournament, especially amid my Parkinson's. I scored that as a win.
Do you experience issues with spatial awareness?