Caring for Seniors with Parkinson's Disease

Advice for families and caregivers

Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological disorder which usually begins in a person's 50s or 60s. The disease develops differently in everyone, but eventually inhibits the body's ability to do such things as move, walk, talk, and swallow. As it progresses, the person will need increasing amounts of help.

Q&A for Seniors and Parkinson's Disease
What can I do to help my parent deal with her stiff limbs from Parkinson's?

It will be important for your parent to see both a physical therapist and an occupational therapist (someone trained to help people overcome disabilities to function in work and home environments) who specializes in Parkinson's disease.

  • The physical therapist can prescribe exercises that may reduce the stiffness.
  • The occupational therapist can teach your parent ways to make normal activities easier, given his or her particular condition.
  • Resistance training and aerobic exercise may improve your parent's ability to function, including balance, ability to walk, and mood.
  • The occupational therapist may also recommend certain adaptive devices that will enable your parent to do more.
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Is there anything that can be done to reduce the tremor in my parent's arm as a result of Parkinson's disease?

There are certain things that may help.

  • If your parent wants to use the right hand, he or she can press his or her right elbow against the body to try to stabilize the upper arm, and then see if that helps.
  • Some people find that putting a rigid brace on over the joint and then placing some weight on the hand will decrease the tremor and even restore control.
  • Others find that reducing caffeine -- found in coffee, tea and colas -- reduces tremors.

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Can I do anything to help my parent feel less exhausted from Parkinson's?
  • Talk with your parent about ways to conserve energy, such as grouping activities in certain locations, placing things needed -- like reading glasses, reading material, the phone -- in an area close to where he or she sits.
  • Try getting adaptive devices to place on chairs that make it easier and require less energy to get up.
  • If your parent finds eating and swallowing tiring, suggest eating smaller meals, but more of them.
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Given that my parent has problems swallowing due to Parkinson's, what foods are best?

Here are some tips:

  • Milk shakes or juices in gelatin form may make swallowing easier, as thicker drinks facilitate swallowing.
  • Moist and soft foods are best in this situation.
  • Avoid foods that create crumbs -- like crackers or cakes -- as these may get caught in the throat.

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What can we do to help my parent avoid choking due to Parkinson's?

Here are some tips:

  • Encourage your parent to eat very small bites and to chew food thoroughly before swallowing.
  • It may also help if your parent takes a small sip of a drink and holds it in his or her mouth while preparing to swallow, in order to moisten whatever has been chewed.
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How can we help my parent to avoid drooling from Parkinson's, which upsets him and us?

Here are some tips:

  • Since sugary foods increase saliva, and since drooling is the result of problems swallowing saliva, try to avoid giving your parent foods with sugar in them.
  • Encourage your parent to keep his or her lips closed and chin up when not speaking or eating.
  • Finally, talk to a physical therapist about lip exercises that may help to strengthen the muscles in your parent's lips.
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My parent has been very depressed since being diagnosed with Parkinson's. How can I help?

Depression is a frequent reaction to the diagnosis of Parkinson's. However, it is possible that your parent will still have many years of good functioning.

  • Remind him or her of that possibility.
  • Also, encourage your parent to exercise, as exercise helps to lift a person's spirits and gives a sense of control over one's body.
  • Also, exercises recommended by a physical or occupational therapist (someone trained to help people overcome disabilities to function in work and home environments) who specializes in Parkinson's disease can be very helpful in minimizing the effect of the disease by keeping the muscles limber.
  • If your parent refuses to exercise, treating the depression may help improve the quality of the rest of his or her life and ultimately enable your parent to more actively participate in his or her disease management.
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How can I help my parent deal with anxiety that the Parkinson's disease will progress?
  • If your parent starts practicing relaxation techniques on a regular basis, this should help with the anxiety and could also boost his or her immune system, possibly delaying some disease progression.
  • Your parent could also ask the doctor for anxiety medication to help reduce stress.
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How can I help my parent find others who have Parkinson's?

Some people with Parkinson's feel very different from those who don't have the disease and would rather talk about their feelings and fears with others in their situation. For these people, a support group is ideal. Go to to find a support group near you, or call 1-800-327-4545 ext. 7697.

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How can I find someone to care for my parent with Parkinson's disease? is a website that lists people throughout the United States who provide care to seniors, includes photos and descriptions of their experience, and does free background checks for members. You can search by zip code. For specific listings, go to

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