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How to Deal With the Effects of Parkinson's Disease on Relationships

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Updated March 12, 2009

Parkinson's disease can have an impact on the relationships you have -- sometimes for the good, sometimes not. But there are things you can do to deal with the effects your Parkinson's can have on connections with those close to you and foster the continuation of healthy and happy bonds.

Your Spouse or Partner

Schedule regular open, honest and frank discussions with your significant other. Give her room to voice frustrations not only with the PD but with you. Talk about money issues on some sort of regular basis as well, as issues like this can very easily create background tensesness and anxiety in even the best of times.

The two of you should consider some sort of couples therapy or regular meetings with some trusted, impartial observer who can provide a forum for sharing frustrations and ideas on how to overcome those frustrations. You need to be able to talk about the inevitable role changes that occur when PD enters the picture.

When you were healthy, perhaps you both brought home the bacon, but now perhaps your contribution to the family’s finances is not as great as it once was. If this is the case, your spouse might need to work more -- at a time when she also needs to put in more time to care for you and your needs. How do you feel about this? How does she feel? Talk it out and, if need be, talk it out with a counselor.

It is amazing how effective talking can be. Just sharing feelings and fears can resolve a million problems. If your spouse is stressed at all the new obligations she faces in caring for you, you in turn feel depressed by your helplessness. Sharing your feelings with one another will defuse any resentment that tends to build in reaction to the pain and stress you both inevitably feel.

Finally try to maintain your independent lives. Don’t allow her to adopt a mere caretaking role. She has her own friends and activities. Encourage her to keep up her activities -- things that re-charge her batteries, feed her soul and keep her going. Likewise for you. Having PD does not mean you suddenly lose interest in everything and everyone else. Keep up your hobbies and interests. Keep growing. PD can slow you down, but it can’t keep you from growing intellectually and spiritually.

Close Friends

Just as your relationship with your significant other can change after your receive your diagnosis, so too can your relationship with all of your friends. Some will gradually diminish their interaction with you. Most will not. Your friends will need to learn from you what you can do and what you can no longer do.

Your best bet in keeping those friendships healthy is to give your friends the clear facts about PD. Tell them that you want them to help you maintain your independence for as long as possible, which will likely mean at least 15 to 20 years after you receive the diagnosis. Tell them that as time passes you will likely face greater challenges from the disease but that you wish to maintain the relationship.

You will be tempted to let people go, especially during those times when you feel down and out. But if you can find a way to avoid self-pity and depression, you will stand a better chance of staying nourished from your friendships. Your friends will bring you a lot of joy if you let them.

Remember your relationships with significant others, family members and friends are a vital source of happiness, comfort and joy. Keep yourself invested in all these relationships. Go the extra mile and cultivate them with passion and energy. Friends and family are the most important thing in life. They can help you face and meet the challenge of PD. Surprisingly, although PD will undoubtedly put a strain on your relationships, PD itself may ultimately bring you closer to your family and your friends.

Source: Parkinson’s Disease: Diagnosis and Clinical Management: Second Edition Edited by Stewart A Factor, DO and William J Weiner, MD. 2008 Demos Medical Publishing

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