Parkinson's disease, which mostly affects older people but can occur at any age, results from the gradual degeneration of nerve cells in the portion of the midbrain that controls body movements. The first signs are likely to be barely noticeable -- a feeling of weakness or stiffness in one limb, perhaps, or a fine trembling of one hand when it is at rest. Eventually, the shaking worsens and spreads, muscles tend to stiffen, and balance and coordination deteriorate. Depression, cognitive issues,...
Take time for yourself. Make sure you have time to relax. If necessary, enlist the help of other family members or even hire someone to assist you in providing care.
Learn as much as you can about your loved one's disease. That way you'll understand what changes to expect in your loved one's behavior or symptoms and how you can best help when those changes occur.
Let your loved one participate. Don't try to do everything for your loved one. Allow him or her the time to complete daily activities on his or her own, such as dressing.
Consult your loved one about his or her family affairs. Although it's not easy to discuss these topics, you should be informed of your loved one's wishes regarding a living will, durable power of attorney, and do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order.
Set realistic goals for yourself and your loved one. Don't attempt to do everything. By setting attainable goals, you are setting everyone up for success rather than disappointment.
Do not put your life on hold. Continue to meet with friends, participate in hobbies or groups, and maintain a schedule as normal as possible. You will not only feel more energized, you will be less likely to feel resentful.
Have someone you can talk to. You are there to listen to and support your loved one, but you also need a support person. Talk openly and honestly with a friend or family member. If that's not possible, join a support group. Understanding that you are not alone and that someone else is in a similar situation helps you to feel nurtured.
Challenges You as a Caregiver Are Likely to Face
There are challenges that a person with Parkinson's disease confronts. First, the disease can vary from day to day. There will be times when he or she can function almost normally and then other times when he or she will be very dependent. This is a natural part of the disease. But it can make a caregiver feel that the person is being unnecessarily demanding or manipulative. Keep in mind that Parkinson's is unpredictable and each day can pose new challenges for you and your loved one.
Also, keep in mind that Parkinson's is a progressive disorder. While medications and surgery can provide significant relief of symptoms, they do not stop the progression of the disease.
Depression is also very much a part of the disease. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression so you can help your loved one seek treatment promptly. And, if you are feeling depressed and having trouble coping, it's just as important to get care for yourself.