How to Manage Parkinson's Disease

Three Methods:Getting Medical TreatmentGathering a Team of SpecialistsManaging Symptoms through Healthy Living

There are many resources available to people with Parkinson’s. This includes medical treatments, therapists and counselors to help people manage new challenges as they arise, and a wide array of information and support services. By learning about and using these resources, you can maintain a high standard of living even with Parkinson’s disease.

Method 1
Getting Medical Treatment

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    Recognize the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Symptoms usually develop gradually over years. The symptoms frequently start on one side of the body before the other Not everyone has the same set of symptoms, but common ones include:[1][2][3]
    • Tremors. People often have uncontrollable shaking that starts in their fingers or hands. It usually appears when the hand is relaxed.
    • Moving slowly. People with Parkinson's may move slowly without realizing it.This is also called bradykinesia. They may also shuffle.
    • Muscle stiffness. Stiff muscles may make it hard to move and be painful.
    • Postural problems. Many people adopt a stooped posture.
    • Not making normal unconscious movements. This can include blinking, making facial expressions, or swinging your arms when you walk.
    • Speech problems. Parkinson’s patients often have a quiet, whispery voice, speak in monotones, or slur their words.
    • Difficulty writing.
    • Nerve pain. Some people have sensations of burning, coldness, or numbness.
    • Anosmia. People may have a reduced ability to smell.
    • Frequent urination or difficulty controlling the need to urinate.
    • Constipation
    • In ability to have or keep an erection in men or difficulty becoming aroused or having an orgasm for women
    • Sweating
    • Drooling
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Dizziness
    • Psychological changes including depression, anxiety, insomnia, dementia, personality changes, visual hallucinations, or delusions.
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    Go to the doctor to get checked. Your doctor will examine you, watch you move, and ask about your medical history and family’s medical history. There are several things the doctor may do:[4][5][6]
    • Observe whether you have a normal range of facial expressions
    • Look for tremors
    • Ask you to get out of a chair
    • Blood tests or imaging tests such as an MRI, SPECT, or PET scan to rule out other conditions such as a stroke or hydrocephalus
    • Prescribe levodopa medication and observe whether your symptoms improve
    • Refer you to a movement specialist
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    Discuss medication with your doctor. Whether your doctor prescribes medications for you and, if so, which ones will depend on your symptoms, medical history, and how much the disease has progressed. Commonly prescribed medications include:[7][8]
    • Levodopa. This medication is generally very effective, particularly in the early stages. It is converted to dopamine in the brain. Side effects may include nausea and dizziness. As the disease progresses, this medication may become less effective. This is taken as a pill or a liquid. It may be combined with carbidopa or benserazide. The dosage may need to be increased over time.
    • Dopamine agonistis. These medications act like dopamine in the brain. They are less effective than medications which are converted to dopamine, but they may be effective longer. These can be taken in different forms including as a patch (Neupro) or an injectable medication (Apokyn). Side effects can include hallucinations, tiredness, compulsive eating, gambling, and hypersexuality.
    • MAO-B inhibitors. These medications prevent your body from breaking down dopamine. Common ones include selegiline (Eldepryl, Zelapar) and rasagiline (Azilect). They can cause interactions when taken with antidepressants, carbidopa-levodopa, or other MAO-B inhibitors. Side effects include nausea, abdominal discomfort, and headaches.
    • Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors. The medication that is most often prescribed is entacapone (Comtan). It prevents the body from breaking down dopamine and is used to make levodopa more effective. Side effects can include involuntary movements or diarrhea.
    • Anticholinergics. These medications can control tremors, but they can cause intolerable side effects such as memory problems, confusion, hallucinations, constipation, and difficulty urinating. A common one is benztropine (Cogentin).
    • Amantadine. This medication can help with early Parkinson’s or to reduce involuntary movements that may occur due to carbidopa-levodopa. Side effects can include purple blotches on the skin, swelling in the ankles, and hallucinations.
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    Ask your doctor about deep brain stimulation. During this procedure, electrodes would be put into your brain which would then receive electrical signals from a device put into your chest. This can provide long-term benefits, but it won’t prevent the disease from continuing. You would still likely need medications.[9][10][11]
    • The electrodes would be inserted using an MRI and neurophysiological mapping. You would receive a controller that would allow you to turn the device on and off. The battery in the device would need to be changed after 3 to 5 years, but this can be done with local anesthesia.
    • Deep brain stimulation can improve an erratic response to levodopa medications, reduce involuntary movements, lessen rigidity, and help a tremor.
    • Infections, strokes, and brain hemorrhages are potential side effects.
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    Avoid ineffective alternative medicines. Several alternative medicines and natural supplements have been studied, but they have not been found to be effective. If you are considering these, or any other herbal remedy, over-the-counter medication, or supplement, discuss it with your doctor before taking it. Some may interact with other medications. In addition, the dosages in supplements are not regulated like in medications. The following substances have not been found to be effective treatments:[12]
    • Coenzyme Q10. This medication was not more effective than a placebo.
    • Vitamin E. Vitamin E has not been shown to slow the progression of Parkinson’s.
    • Creatine. This substance is currently being studied.

Method 2
Gathering a Team of Specialists

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    Find a movement disorders specialist. Many specialize in disorders such as Parkinson’s. A movement specialist can make recommendations and assess how your care is progressing.[13]
    • If there is no movement specialist with experience in Parkinson's near you, you might ask your neurologist for a recommendation. If necessary, you might want to consider traveling occasionally to visit the movement specialist. This will enable him or her to notice changes as the disease progresses.
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    Hire a speech-language specialist. If you find that others are often complaining that they can’t understand you, a speech and language specialist may help you to improve your voice.[14]
    • As about the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT LOUD). It has been clinically demonstrated to help with Parkinson’s related speech difficulties.
    • If you have trouble swallowing, the speech and language specialist can help you with this as well.
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    See a physical therapist. A physical therapist will help you improve your balance, regain your range of motion, improve your flexibility, and keep your strength. The therapist can help devise exercises that are tailored to your needs.
    • This can be particularly helpful for people who are vulnerable to falling or who freeze and have difficulty moving.[15]
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    Find an occupational therapist. Occupational therapists specialize in helping people devise solutions to the problems that occur at home or at work. They can also recommend specialized devices that may make certain tasks easier and safer. This can help you retain your freedom and independence.[16]
    • Examples of solutions that an occupational therapist may be able to help with include putting hand rails in the shower stall to make showering safer, getting you a special straw to make it easier to swallow liquids, installing a special swivel seat in your car if you have trouble getting in and out, or installing ramps in your house.
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    Talk to a nutritionist. This may be particularly helpful if you have difficulty getting enough nutrition or problems swallowing. Sometimes people with Parkinson's may not eat enough because they are worried about choking.[17]
    • A nutritionist can help you devise a meal plan that will be easier for you to eat, still be tasty, and will provide you with the nutrients that you need.
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    Find a social worker or counselor. You may find it helpful to go yourself, with your partner, or with your family. This can help you and loved ones to cope with the diagnosis and manage stress. The counselor can also help you find other federal, state, or local resources.[18]
    • You can locate a licensed professional by contacting the American Psychological Association, National Association of Social Workers, or the Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.
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    Go to a psychiatrist or psychologist. Depression and anxiety are very common with Parkinson’s. A psychiatrist or psychologist can treat these conditions.[19]
    • If you are prescribed other medications for depression or anxiety, be sure to inform your other doctors so that they all know what medications you are on, how much, and when you take them. This is important for making sure you get the coordinated, thorough care.

Method 3
Managing Symptoms through Healthy Living

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    Relieve symptoms through diet. People with Parkinson's may be able to reduce problems eating, lessen constipation, and manage their weight through dietary changes.[20]
    • Consult a nutritionist and occupational therapist if you have difficulty swallowing. They may suggest taking smaller mouthfuls, thickening drinks, avoiding hard, dry or crumbly foods, doing exercises to strengthen your lips and tongue, and adjusting your posture.[21]
    • Alleviate constipation through eating high fiber foods like whole-grain breads, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Pair this with drinking plenty of water. Try to get at least 8 to 10 glasses per day. If you still have constipation, ask your doctor or nutritionist about adding a fiber supplement to your diet. Avoid bran because it can make it harder to absorb vitamins and minerals.
    • Control weight loss. Sometimes people tend to eat less when it takes a long time to do so or if they are worried about swallowing. You can reduce weight loss by trying to eat small amounts every two to three hours. You can also increase the amounts of calories you get by adding butter, sugar, cream or honey. Drinking a milk shake with blended fruit and ice cream can also be an excellent and tasty way to increase your calories.
    • Avoid weight gain due to inactivity. Sometimes people struggle with weight gain when they have more difficulty exercising. If you have reduced physical activity, try reducing the amount of fatty foods you eat and cutting down on sugary snacks. Avoid adding butter or sugar to your foods. Instead of frying foods, try grilling, baking, or steaming them.
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    Get social support. Maintaining a strong social network will help you deal with the emotional struggles of living with Parkinson’s. Many people experience shock, fear, denial, sadness, and anger. Social support can make you feel less alone, reduce stress, improve your mood, and help you learn techniques for managing the condition.[22]
    • Attend a support group. Support groups are excellent places to talk to people who will understand what you are going through and to learn about the resources available to you. You may be able to either attend an in-person group or an online group. Search online at the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation website,, call the information services 1-800-457-6676, or email You can also ask at your local senior center, or your city, state or federal health services.
    • Talk to friends and family. These are the people who know you best and so they will be able to provide emotional support. Even if you don’t have family or friends that live nearby, you can keep in touch through writing, emailing, or calling. Free downloadable programs like Skype can let you do video chats computer to computer for free anywhere in the world.
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    Find out what services are available to the elderly. If you are over 60 you may be able to have someone help you with housework or deliver meals to you. You can look online at to find out about the resources near you. Possibilities include: [23]
    • Meals delivered to your home
    • House cleaning services
    • Assistance with bathing
    • Dealing with financial or legal matters
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    Keep your mobility with exercise. How you chose to exercise will depend on your particular health conditions and symptoms. Always consult your doctor before starting any new exercise regime. If your doctor says it is safe for you, you may want to consider:[24]
    • Swimming. This can be excellent for people who have difficulties with balance.
    • Stretching to maintain flexibility. You may want to try yoga or tai chi. These flowing, controlled movements can improve your balance, strength, and mobility.
    • Walking or bike riding. However, discuss these with your doctor to make sure you are not at a high risk for falling.
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    Use alternative medicine techniques to combat pain and rigidity. These may help to reduce stiffness and improve your range of motion. Check to be sure they are covered by your health insurance. If so, talk to your doctor about trying:[25]
    • Acupuncture or acupressure to reduce pain. During acupuncture small thin needles are inserted into special points in your body. During acupressure, no needles are inserted but the practitioner will press on pressure points instead.
    • Massage. A massage may help you relax tight muscles. This can help you relax both physically and emotionally. It can help you maintain your mobility.
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    Manage stress. Dealing with the day to day struggles of Parkinson’s frequently makes people feel depressed, anxious, or angry. If you develop stress management techniques, this can help you cope, improve your mood, and maintain your quality of life. Techniques to try include:[26]
    • Meditation
    • Deep breathing
    • Music or art therapy
    • Pet therapy. Having a cat or dog can make people feel less alone.
    • Visualizing calming images
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    Get vaccinated. Having Parkinson’s may make you more vulnerable to other infectious diseases. Ask your doctor whether they recommend you get vaccinated. Possible vaccines include:[27]
    • Flu vaccine
    • Pneumococcal vaccine

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Categories: Neurological Disorders