Spending time with children and grandchildren is a way of life for many people with Parkinson’s, but kids may not understand how symptoms of PD can affect the ones they love. We talked to movement disorder specialist Ritesh A. Ramdhani, M.D., at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, about the challenges that Parkinson’s can present when it comes to spending time with kids, how to explain the condition to them, and more.
Q: How can Parkinson’s affect my ability to spend time with my children or grandchildren?
A: It depends on the type of symptoms. Gait issues such as shuffling or freezing episodes increase the risk of falls and may make it difficult to negotiate small spaces or walk long distances limiting the time spent outdoors. A significant tremor may interfere with the ability to do routine tasks, and the social anxiety it may produce could negatively affect a patient’s interaction with loved ones.
Q: What’s the best way to talk about Parkinson’s with children?
A: Keep it simple for younger children: It may be helpful to explain that the symptoms are related to a low level of a chemical in the brain that helps control movement, and that there are medicines to help substitute and replace that chemical, making it easier to move. It’s important to reassure kids that Parkinson’s is not a death sentence, everything is going to be OK, and many symptoms are manageable and treatable. Older children might want to know more about the nature of the disease progression in order to help their parents or grandparents with some of the lifestyle changes that are needed to reduce the rate of symptom progression.
Q: What can teenagers or even younger children do to help?
A: To manage motor and non-motor symptoms well, there are some key lifestyle changes that patients can do in addition to taking medication: Get 7–8 hours of sleep each night; engage in a cardiovascular-based exercise regimen several times a week; eat a healthy diet filled with leafy green vegetables, fruit and water (this will help with digestive health); and reduce stress, as it can worsen underlying Parkinson’s symptoms. I think children and grandchildren can help with many of these changes and help reinforce them. It’s important that there’s support from everyone in the family, as it enables a patient to feel they’re not carrying this burden alone.
Originally printed in MoreThanMotion, Fall 2017.