Man walking like a zombie

Zombie Walking 101: Parkinson's Gait and Us

My wife informed me that we have a friend's Halloween party coming. With over a month to go, there's so much pressure to be something cool. I've already been informed that the character "the Nun," from the movie of the same name, will be popular this year. My wife said, "You're allowed to pick your own costume this year." This made me smile. Last time I wasn't, so I went as a ringmaster and she played the bearded lady. Costumes are expensive (and never used again), so it's important to work with what we have. Can we borrow or recycle or create something cool? Thanks to my Parkinson's gait being solidly established, I can easily play the role of a mob victim with a cement shoe, chain gang member, or a zombie.


If you want to understand what it means to walk with a zombie or be a walker, it has nothing to do with grunts, makeup, fake blood, or an AMC show. Rather it has more real movement concerns for the Parkinson's community. Thus, we have many concerns with our gait and how it will change over time.


Like the duo LMFAO sing, "Every Day I'm Shuffling," when moving my arms I swing wide (if I can move them) and my shoulder placements redefine me as a bull in a china shop. I take shorter steps as well. It appears that I'm dragging my leg. This makes it easier to do the zombie walk, do the "Frankenstein," or make a plastic ball and chain look convincing. Now, I just need makeup and props.

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People who are at later stages of Parkinson's will deal with the "bridge out" condition of freezing. I haven't experienced it yet, but my understanding is that our mind doesn't know how to complete the process of walking that we are already in the middle of (or hesitating to start). In mid-stride, we can become "glued" to the floor.

Here, we need to find ways to thaw out and commence the motion. Health Union has written a very informative article on how to do that which can be found here. These techniques of redirection, shifting, and getting help, among other things, are important to know.

Being prepared

As a person who is growing into additional Parkinson's issues, it's important to know what lies ahead. Think of it as 6th-grade health class. We may not know the whole puberty game from experience, but we will.

"And you'll shave that goofy mustache, Junior! Eighth graders with mustaches are not 'cool!'"

Oh, and we'll make sure those who care/caring people around us understand those moments ahead of time, too. Thus, we'll ensure our own help will be waiting for us.


Festinating gait is another movement that Parkies can experience. The steps are quicker but the stride is shorter. This can cause anxious and frustrating moments due to its intense exertion. I haven't experienced it, but other people most definitely have.

This little piggy got dystonia

Dystonia makes the zombie movement painful for me. My toes curl downward and hurt across their middle phalanx. This makes it painful to wear sneakers. I also should stop wearing my slip on "dressy" work shoes, but I haven't mandated my boots be worn 24/7 yet although I probably should because it makes walking more comfortable. The top of my foot also hurts a lot, especially my left one. When it does, I find it necessary to take off my shoes. Sometimes, my big toe will separate from his neighbor and get stuck in place. I can already feel this developing in the right foot which is currently about 4 years behind. To summarize, dystonia is as bad as a "zombie" outbreak.


One interesting side note, I'm more comfortable in boots and on rock piles than on a flat, paved rail to trail systems, like the one in my hometown of Ephrata, Pennsylvania. Ephrata is the home of the Green Dragon, the Walmart with the horse and buggy parking, and the historic cloister. To my knowledge, we have no zombies, but I walk like one... sort of. Remember folks, all we need is one to start the outbreak!

Helpful hints to make things better

Humor, support, and being active to avoid being rigid goes a long way to make our lives better. I tell zombie jokes to make myself laugh (and inspire myself to write my fiction). Iggy Pop's voice screaming "cuz I'm loose!" motivates me to walk and hike. Additionally, I think about all of the things I need to do that require movement, so I let my wife, family, and friends inspire me, too. Rome and Vatican City are calling me in January. I need to be ready.


And when I need a good role model to keep me from being a zombie, I turn to my fellow Parkinson's warriors. I think about Jimmy Choi, and how he went from a cane to an American Ninja Warrior.

Whether we're dancing, boxing, or just being us, we can control some of this storm and keep us whole.

I recommend doing it with a smile on our faces. Stoicism is great, but love/friendship is equally meaningful.

This is something I'll be thinking about while I choose a classic Halloween costume. Any ideas?

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