When you're a caregiver for someone with Parkinson's disease, some days you'll need to help him with daily tasks. Other days you just need to give him enough time to do them on his own. This checklist can make life easier for both of you.
- Make it easy for him. Try an electric toothbrush if his hands or fingers are stiff from Parkinson's. If you help with flossing or brushing, try not to touch the back of his tongue, to prevent his gagging. Keep a small towel handy if drooling is an issue.
- An electric shaver may make shaving easier. After shaving, have him use lotion instead of aftershave, which may be too harsh.
- For safety and comfort, use the shower, if possible. Tub baths can be a falling hazard.
- While he’s bathing, have him sit on a shower stool, use a hand-held showerhead, and hold a grab bar.
- Sometimes Parkinson's causes dandruff. If it does, use a little shampoo with mild coal tar or salicylic acid. Then rinse his hair well.
- Wrap him up in an absorbent terry cloth robe after bathing. Then he doesn't have to dry himself off with a towel.
- Make sure clothes are easy to put on, such as pants with elastic waistbands, bras that hook in front, and tube socks instead of dress socks. Skip pantyhose and clothes that pull on over the head. If favorite clothes have buttons, replace them with Velcro.
- Avoid shoes with rubber soles. They can cause tripping.
- Make dressing simple. Lay out clothes ahead of time, in the order he likes to put them on. Offer dressing aids like buttonhooks or long-handled shoehorns.
- Let him dress himself as much as possible. Suggest that he sit down and dress on the side most affected first.
- Serve fiber -- like whole grains, bran cereals, fruits, and vegetables -- to prevent constipation, a common Parkinson's issue. If he’s used to a low-fiber diet, add fiber slowly.
- Serve a calcium-rich food at least three times a day to prevent osteoporosis. This is a special concern with a person with Parkinson's, because falls that can lead to fractures are more likely. Dairy foods like cheese and vitamin D-fortified milk and yogurt are good choices.
- The Parkinson's drug levodopa is absorbed best on an empty stomach. Protein can decrease its absorption. So, serve protein at dinner -- not earlier in the day around the time he takes his medicine.
- If he has trouble swallowing, fix moist, soft foods. Avoid foods that crumble easily, like crackers. Thick drinks, like protein shakes, are also easy to swallow. If eating is tiring, fix smaller meals more often.
- Don't let his symptoms discourage participating in activities. Specially adapted tools are available to help with things like holding a paintbrush. His occupational therapist can also suggest strategies. If some hobbies become too hard, like playing a musical instrument, go to a concert or listen to music instead.
- Try relaxing activities to reduce stress, which can make symptoms worse. Listening to music and relaxation guided imagery may help ease tremors. You can learn guided imagery from books, CDs, or DVDs.
- Besides the daily exercise that his doctor probably suggests, urge him to exercise his face muscles, jaw, and mouth. Sing or read out loud (using big lip movements) or make faces.
The hands-on daily tasks of caregiving can be hard for both of you. But they also bring you together. As much as possible, focus on what your loved one can do. Taking part in his own care and enjoying hobbies will help him enjoy life more.