Health and Wellbeing

Table of Contents

Michelle Barratt Psychology is a Toowong and Redland Bay / Wynnum – Manly Clinical Psychology Practice, and aims to provide treatment for Health and Wellbeing in Brisbane at the highest standard. The practice values implementing support and treatment that not only endeavours to support their clients feel safe, heard and understood, but also strives to offer effective treatment that will empower clients to learn new skills to support them in the future. If you are unsure about what you are dealing with, please don’t hesitate to contact us to support you through the next step of either working out what to do or how to proceed with an appointment.

What is Parkinsons Disease

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a terrible, life-limiting disease. It is the second most common neurological disorder, after dementia. PD is commonly diagnosed in people aged 65 and over. It is estimated by 2020 the average person will live to the ripe ‘old’ age of 80. Hence, given the aging population, PD is on the rise. Notwithstanding 10% of people are diagnosed with Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease (EOPD), aged 40–55 years.

We are becoming more aware of PD. This could be attributed to famous people being diagnosed with PD. Such as boxing legend Muhammad Ali , diagnosed aged 42; Actor, Michael J. Fox, most famous for his in ‘Family Ties’ or ‘Back to the future’, diagnosed aged 30; Country singer and songwriter Johnny Cash; Pope John Paul II; NBA basketball player Brian Grant, diagnosed aged 3;. Eleven time Grammy Award-winning singer Linda Ronstadt diagnosed aged 67; Bob Hopkins was diagnosed in 2012, and most recently Scottish comedian, Billy Connelly was diagnosed in 2013, aged 70 years.​

PD is a movement disorder.

It was traditionally known as the ‘shaking disease’, because the tremor was the most apparent and common feature of the disease. However it is becoming increasingly acknowledged that PD is “much more than just the shakes”.​

PD can be characterised slow and stiff movements. Overtime as symptoms worsen, walking (taking small steps – shuffling), talking (soft, quiet, small voice) and thinking becomes increasingly difficult. For some they have the facial mask, and as a result can appear emotionless or grumpy.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, PD greatly effects the a person’s self-esteem. Overtime with increased disability imposed by the disease, patients with Parkinson’s may feel ‘small’ and ‘insignificant’ and ultimately wind up feeling useless, worthless, depressed and anxious. Ultimately, everything about them changes – changing how they look, function and ultimately overtly behave.

Parkinson’s Disease and Mental Health

Parkinson’s Disease symptoms are not limited to motor (physical) symptoms. There are significant non-motor symptoms (psychological or cognitive) that can accompany PD, including depression, apathy (lack of motivation), anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure), anxiety, pain, hallucinations, autonomic dysfunction (loss of smell), and in advanced stages some develop full blown dementia. Thus, it is not hard to see just how debilitating this disease can become – More often than not, it is debilitating to not only the patient with Parkinson’s but to those around them who are left feeling helpless, bewildered and sad.

In addition, due to the wide spectrum of symptoms, it affects everyone differently. Thus PD is unique to each individual, which makes it hard to generalise, diagnose, and treat. Many go for prolonged periods before the diagnosis is made. This can be an anxious and uncertain time, knowing that something is wrong, but not knowing what. Many, like Linda Ronstadt, are misdiagnosed. She was initially treated for a frozen shoulder (restricted movement and stiffness), until PD-related symptoms became more apparent. Therefore receiving the diagnosis can be ‘bitter-sweet’. Given PD is incurable, progressive and relentless in nature. Overtime symptoms worsen, can diminish those affected quality of life.

Parkinson’s disease and their Carers

As mentioned above, the effects of Parkinson’s are not only felt by the suffers but by their loved ones, who often, by choice or necessity become primary carers. Many of these effects on the loved ones are negative. They may feel burdened as many responsibilities fall on them, because in later stages of the disease, patients with Parkinson’s are forced to relinquish employment, household and driving responsibilities. Some loved ones have to retire prematurely, in order to provide more care and assistance for patients with Parkinson’s – thus at times having to cut their careers short and directly having an impact on them financially, emotionally and environmentally. For example, many also experience a diminished quality of life (e.g. no time to socialise because they are too busy caring for persons with Parkinson’s).

All in all responsibilities and capacities for everyone involved changes which can bring about adjustment issues for all parties.

Author: Michelle Barratt

Being the Carer For Someone WIth Parkinsons

However a PD diagnosis and caring for a loved one with PD is not all bad!!!

Parkinson’s medication is very effective in the early stages of the disease (up to 10 years). The medications alleviate (more aptly masks) the motor symptoms. Metaphorically, the mediations act like oil applied to a stiff, rusty door hinge. The action of the oil allows the door to open with greater ease, thus ‘freed up’. Thus the medications allow the person with Parkinson’s to move reasonably freely and maintain relatively ‘normal’ functioning, and quality of life. Unfortunately the effectiveness of medications wane as the disease progresses.

Hence the early stages of the disease is known as the ‘honeymoon period’. Many person’s with Parkinson’s and their loved ones capitalise on this period. They do some or all of things that they had been putting off, such as working their way through bucket list (e.g. getting in a campervan and travelling around Australia whilst they are still able too, or visit relatives overseas).

In fact there is evidence in the literature that shows caring for a loved one with a debilitating or terminal illness (e.g. cancer) can have positive effects. That is many caregivers not only survive the demands of care-giving, but thrive in the care-giving situation, and as a result experience personal and relationship growth.

Many caregivers have reported:

  • Improved Relationships with the person with Parkinson’s and others (e.g. bringing people closer together)
  • Enhanced Perspectives, such as a greater appreciation for life and others. Such as feeling grateful for what they have in life or perceiving the caregiving situation as an opportunity to give back to the person with Parkinsons.
  • Personal Growth such as, becoming stronger , more self-reliant, and improved interpersonal skills (e.g. become more patient, less self-focused, more empathetic, more compassionate, more assertive).

This emphasizes human strength and resilience. How people become stronger in the face of adversity. Many caregivers used the diagnosis as a time for self-reflection, and re-evaluation. To generate goals (e.g. travel whilst still able, spending more time with family, not ‘sweating the small stuff’) and take action, aligned with life values.

However, literature also shows that some carers do not cope and feel at times:

  • Isolated and alone
  • Scared that they are dealing with the unknown and at times feel
  • Resentment for having to give up so much of their lives and careers to support the person with Parkinson’s.
  • Feel exhausted and that
  • They have lost a huge part of their life and how things used to be – things just don’t seem normal anymore.

A culmination of these issues and feelings can also lead to burn out and compromise the care of the person with Parkinsons as well as the carer developing their own Mental Health concerns. If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with a debilitating or terminal illness. You may wish to talk to a psychologist, to assist in positive adjustment to the disease… make an appointment…

Author: Michelle Barratt

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