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Accommodating Parkinson's Disease

Article on Parkinson's. January 15, 2018

A diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, like any long-term ailment, can be shattering. It can seem as if your life—at least a normal one—is over. But a disease is just another obstacle in life, like getting divorced or being laid off or losing a loved one. Now I don't mean to imply that a disease like Parkinson's is little more than a speedbump, I mean that life is always throwing up problems, some nastier than others. Living well requires that we deal with them.

People with a disease like Parkinson's often speak of battling or fighting or struggling with the condition, as if conflict is a necessary element in dealing with it: a consequence of the diagnosis. But living with a disease is not just a battle. After all, who could engage in a lifetime of personal warfare? So I'd like to offer a different perspective: accommodating the disease.

When I say "accommodating," I mean adjusting your life, your habits, your approaches, to the reality of the disease. Experts on Parkinson's are clear on what patients need to do, which is no different than for anyone else concerned about health: exercise, eat well, and rest. For Parkinson's patients, the need is even more imperative.

The problem for many of us is that these seem like a radical departure from our normal routines. Most of us don't go to the gym (except perhaps in January), most of us eat foods we know we shouldn't. And most of us tell ourselves we're too busy to get the recommended hours of sleep. So it can seem as if dealing with the disease is a battle, not with the disease, but with our own less-than-optimal habits.

Now if you're able to embrace the lifestyle changes the experts recommend, great. Do it. You won't need the advice I'm offering here. But if that seems intimidating, this is a good place to start.

So here and in the next couple of posts, I'd like to offer some advice that makes these life changes more palatable. My focus won't be on uprooting your life because most of us have tried that and it rarely works: most New Year's resolutions are shattered before Valentine's Day. Instead, I'd like to use the concept of "continuous tweaking." Tweaking is making slight adjustments to things we're already doing rather than plunging into new activities, especially out of a sense of obligation. And "continuous" means that the tweaking doesn't stop with one adjustment: it's ongoing. So I'm going to suggest that accommodating Parkinson's is a continuous tweaking of your lifestyles.

More next week.