Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects a region of the brain called the basal ganglia, which is responsible for producing the chemical dopamine. As PD progresses and dopamine levels drop, movement disturbances result. These include short, quick, scuffing steps while walking; difficulty starting and stopping movement; poor balance; tremors; and increased joint stiffness or rigidity. These symptoms, individually or combined, increase the risk of falling. Here are several in-home interventions you can provide to help your loved one with PD, assist in the prevention of falls and make walking with Parkinson’s easier, first published on caringtoday.com.
Use statements such as “Long steps,” “March,” and “Step up” to modify your loved one’s walking pattern. Often, a person with PD experiences being “stuck,” and these gentle yet firm commands may help him initiate movement. Using a metronome or music with a rhythm that matches the person’s normal walking speed also can be helpful.
Visual targets, such as strips of white tape placed horizontally across high-traffic paths in your home, also help the patient take longer steps and minimize scuffing. Place the tape at the desired distance for the length of each step. An alternative is to attach a flashlight to the front of a walker. Attach it with all-purpose duct tape so that the beam shines approximately one foot ahead of the walker. The light then becomes the target for each step.
To minimize scuffing, a smooth flooring surface, such as wood, is preferable to carpet; low-cut carpet is preferable to one with high nap. Remove throw rugs and clear away other obstacles, such as small end tables, magazine racks and footstools. Highlight surface transitions, like thresholds, so your loved one can prepare as she approaches it. Create a wide path for the approach to a commonly used chair or bed. This may decrease the likelihood of a person with PD getting “stuck” in his movement.
Physical activity and exercise will help your loved one maintain function as well as psychological well-being. She should be encouraged to continue performing physical activities she enjoys, such as gardening, walking, swimming (especially in warm water), or using a stationary bike or exercise bands. If she can no longer safely perform these activities, or if she’s having difficulty with daily tasks, such as bathing or dressing, she may benefit from occupational or physical therapy. Be sure to consult with your loved one’s physicians for referrals to these services.+Derrick Shields