Aging with Parkinson's Disease

Aging with Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s. Symptoms of PD include motor and non-motor problems, such as muscle stiffness, shuffling gait, stooped posture, slow/ small movements, imbalance, speech and swallowing issues, sleep disturbances, constipation, dizziness, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and memory and thinking problems. People are typically diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease between the ages of 55 of 70 years old and live a normal life span. The following five steps can ensure that those living with PD enjoy their highest quality of life:

  1. Don’t wait--Build your care team. Upon diagnosis, begin searching for the Parkinson’s experts who can coach you toward your best health. Your team should include your trusted primary care physician, a movement disorders neurologist, and a PD-specialized physical therapist. Each can perform a baseline assessment of your condition and follow up with you regularly to adjust your treatments. If you have even minor deficits in dexterity, handwriting, or dressing, you should also seek a PD-specialized occupational therapist. If you notice changes to your speech or swallowing, find a speech language pathologist.
  2. Don’t hide. It may be tempting to deny or hide your diagnosis, and you may need to be cautious with disclosing it if you are still working. However, the best way to lessen psychologic burden and isolation is to share your diagnosis and feelings with supportive family and friends. If you aren’t ready, at least begin to educate yourself. Trustworthy groups like Michael J. Fox Foundation, Davis Phinney Foundation, and the Parkinson’s Foundation offer a variety of resources to help you navigate the disease. You can also join an online or local in-person support group.
  3. Partner with your physician to optimize your medication. Take your medication as prescribed. Log your symptoms and any side effects so that you can help your physician effectively adjust your medications. When your medications are optimized, you’ll be better able to enjoy all your favorite activities and minimize side effects. You’ll also be able to participate well in exercise—key to maintaining and even improving your function and quality of life.
  4. Make exercise a priority. Parkinson’s medications treat your motor symptoms. They don’t address cognitive, emotional, or most other non-motor symptoms. Not only can exercise improve all of these, it is also the only thing proven to slow progression of the motor symptoms of PD. A Parkinson’s- specialized physical therapist can help you find the right type of exercise for you.
  5. Plan ahead. Schedule your week to make exercise and social connections a priority. Pace yourself around meaningful events so that you can fully enjoy them. Keep a list of your doctors, medical conditions, medications, allergies, recent surgeries, and emergency contacts in case you are ever injured or hospitalized. Discuss with your family your wishes in the event you are ever unable to make your own health care and financial decisions.

Remember, you’re not alone. There are plenty of resources to help you live well with PD.

Learn more about treatment options for Parkinson's disease at Allied Services.

Dr. Kristina Dorkoski is an experienced physical therapist and Board-Certified Neurologic Clinical Specialist on the neurologic team at Allied Services Wilkes-Barre Rehab Center.  Dr. Kristina Dorkoski is a physical therapist, Board-Certified Neurologic Clinical Specialist, Certified Exercise Expert for Aging Adults, Professional Yoga Therapist, and certified Pilates instructor. Dorkoski specializes in the evaluation and treatment of adults with Parkinson’s disease, balance, and vestibular disorders, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, and stroke. She is an experienced lead therapist on the neurologic team at Allied Services/ Heinz Rehab outpatient center in Wilkes-Barre.