Caring for a loved one who has Parkinson’s Disease can be especially hard. Not only does the condition affect their ability to perform daily tasks, but it can also make it harder for them to communicate effectively. Patience can go a long way in helping them open up, while external aids can also be helpful in many ways. Here’s a quick guide on communicating effectively with someone close to you, who has Parkinson’s.

Understanding Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is one of the most common neurodegenerative conditions in the world. It primarily damages the dopamineTo help them out, have-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra. As Parkinson’s Disease progresses, it affects movement and gait, and can lead to psychological symptoms such as paranoia or hallucinations. Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease include Stem Cell Therapy, Regenerative Rehabilitation Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Speech Therapy.

How Parkinson’s Disease affects communication

In addition to symptoms related to movement, patients suffering from Parkinson’s Disease often experience difficulty with speaking. Many, for instance, may develop a soft hoarse voice that makes it difficult to hear what they are saying. Others may exhibit a stutter or a slur in their speech. As the disease progresses, or even as a consequence of medication, patients may experience hallucinations that can cause them to lose their train of thought. This may even be an obstacle in comprehending speech. Moreover, patients are often unable to make facial expressions, which can be perceived as disinterest in what is being said. This poses a further challenge in keeping the conversation going.

The other major challenge to communication is mental health. As many as 90% of Parkinson’s Disease patients experience Depression, both as a symptom of the condition, and a result of the frustration of being chronically ill. This can make them withdraw emotionally, even with loved ones. Many patients also feel conscious about being sick and thus refuse to talk about their symptoms. This can be dangerous, especially if there is a decline in the patient’s health that the family should be aware of.

How to communicate effectively with a Parkinson’s Disease patient

As someone emotionally close to the patient, it is important to keep the following points in mind when talking to them.

  • Focus on the conversation: Parkinson’s Disease patients may find it hard to talk to more than one person at a time or to talk while they are doing something else. To help them out, have a one-on-one conversation where both parties are sitting or standing, while maintaining eye contact.
  • Observe the ideal time for conversing with the patient: Depending on what their medication schedule is, there may be various ‘on’ and ‘off’ times for them with regard to activities like conversations. Engage with them during their ‘on’ times as much as possible.
  • Keep it simple: Make the comprehension process easy for the patient by using names rather than pronouns when talking about other people and keeping any questions simple.
  • Offer them tools: If a spoken conversation is difficult for the patient, offer them a touchscreen tablet that they can use to type out what they want to say. You can also equip them with a small wearable microphone if their voice has softened.
  • Avoid talking only about disease-related topics: Try not to fixate on the patient’s health or treatment. Instead, talk about things that they enjoy, such as books, music, or movies.
  • Be patient: Parkinson’s Disease patients may often struggle to find the right words, or to say something without stuttering. Let them take their time and avoid showing impatience or trying to finish their sentences for them.
  • Take breaks when needed: If you are a caregiver to a Parkinson’s Disease patient, it is important to take breaks to recharge your own mental health. By taking breaks you avoid the risk of burnout or revealing your frustration to the patient.
  • Consult a speech therapist: Speech therapists can work with the patient to improve their control over their mouth and tongue muscles to help them talk more easily. If your loved one’s speaking abilities show an unexpected decline, it may be time to enlist a therapist to help them out with appropriate exercises.

While it can be difficult to cope with a loved one’s impeded abilities and personality changes, it is essential to show empathy and patience above all else. Be attentive and listen actively if they express feelings of sadness or frustration. By simply showing that you care, you can maintain a strong bond and get them to open up to you in their own way.

Dr Na'eem Sadiq is a respected stem cell specialist at Plexus, and a prominent neurologist in Bangalore. He studied neurology and clinical neurophysiology in London, and worked with some of the most prestigious medical institutions in England, and the Middle East. He completed his MBBS at Bellary Government Medical College, and a postgraduate degree in psychiatry from NIMHANS in Bangalore.

Dr Na'eem has perfected his knowledge and expertise in Continuing medical education (CME), and training in tissue culture, Stem Cell Therapy, and neurology. Dr Na'eem Sadiq possesses an undying passion to improve people’s lives. This led to the creation of Plexus, a neuro and Stem Cell Research centre in Bangalore in neurosurgery, and neurorehabilitation.