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Parkinson's Disease Can Cause Awkward Situations

How Do You Handle Them?


Updated April 21, 2009

Parkinson's Disease Can Cause Awkward Situations
© 2001-2008 HAAP Media Ltd

Parkinson's disease involves a lot of symptoms that can be misunderstood or misinterpreted by others. If you have PD, you do not need me to tell you that others may think you are:

  • staring,
  • trembling,
  • mumbling,
  • drooling and so on.

Add to all this that

  • you move slower others and that
  • your signature ain’t what it used to be…

…then its not so surprising that potentially awkward social situations are a daily challenge for PD patients. Here are some tips on how to handle them.

“Why are you staring at me?”

Many PD patients have been accused of staring. But PD involves a loss of spontaneous facial expressions (which depend on dopamine) and a reduction in the rate of blinking of the eyes. Doctors call this set of symptoms ‘masked facies.’ The loss of control of the face muscles also results in mumbling and drooling and loss of emotional expression.

If someone asks you about ‘staring’ or mumbling or drooling the best response may be the truth: “I have Parkinson’s Disease…I lose control of some of my facial muscles.” OR:

“You’re mumbling, I cannot understand what you are saying.”

“I have Parkinson’s Disease…I lose control of some of my speech muscles.”

“You’re drooling.”

“I have Parkinson’s Disease…I lose control of some of my mouth and face muscles.”

A similar response will work for many of the other symptoms that are often misunderstood.

“You’re trembling!”

Tremor is one of the earliest symptoms of PD and is due to loss of dopamine in movement centers of the brain. Try the usual reply: “I have Parkinson’s Disease…I lose control of some of my muscles.”

Consider the Following Scenario:

You need to go to the supermarket to pick up a few staples.

At the supermarket you are slow in pushing the cart down the aisle. People are lined-up in back of you and want you to move faster. But you can’t go any faster. Someone says “Excuse me.” What should you say?

At the checkout counter you slowly and shakily put each item on the belt. People again are lined up in back of you staring angrily. What should you say if anything?

It comes time to pay for the groceries and you realize you have no cash on you! So you need to pay with credit card. The cashier will require your signature. She looks at your signature and says “It's too small, I cannot read your writing” What should you say?

Tips For Handling Awkward Situations

The trip to the grocery store scenario yielded plenty of awkward social moments for people with PD. While you are NOT obliged to explain yourself to every impatient or inconsiderate person who crosses your path, sometimes a quick explanation will ease your way a bit.

  • In most situations a simple one sentence explanation will suffice: “I have Parkinson’s Disease…I lose control of some of my muscles.”

Whether or not that one sentence explanation will handle every situation you face, you can use other ways to handle awkward moments:

  • Cultivate a sense of humor about the situation. People are funny when they fret about the small stuff like waiting in a line where lines abound (as in a supermarket!)
  • Cultivate the virtue of patience with yourself and others. Accept yourself and the challenges you face.
  • Turn awkward social situations around so that they benefit you whenever you can. Your simple explanation of your condition will often spark a conversation with a stranger who, surprisingly enough, turns out to be understanding and even helpful.


Sagar, Harvey. The New Parkinson's Disease Handbook: The Essential Guide for Sufferers and Carers.2002 Random House Uk Ltd.

R. Pahwa and K.E. Lyons (Editors),Handbook of Parkinson’s Disease; 4th Edition, New York, Informa Healthcare Publishers, 2007.

Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Managing Your PD. Accessed December 16, 2008. http://www.pdf.org/en/managing_pd

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