One of the most common questions we get on the Parkinson’s Warriors Facebook group is, how fast does Parkinson’s progress? As you will see, this is a complicated question, and there is no right answer, but there are a lot of wrong answers.
A Wrong Answer
Many people with Parkinson’s believe they experience a linear-style progression, in which you decline slowly, but surely, at an even rate over the years. This could not be further from the truth. The truth is, Parkinson’s progresses at an uneven rate over time, sometimes accelerating, sometimes decelerating, sometimes plateauing, and sometimes peaking for a moment, just to return to where it was a few weeks prior. Lets take a look at each of these scenarios and what causes each.
This is the nightmare scenario – in just over a year, you have gone from being independent, content with life, and hopeful, to diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and now you need help in everything you do, you’re depressed, and it’s hard to muster up the energy to do anything.
Here’s the good news: this type of acceleration is rare with Parkinson’s. This typically happens to those diagnosed in advanced age (people in their 80s, for example), or it could be mis-diagnosed PSP, Huntington’s, or ALS. All of these are bad, but if you have been taking Parkinson’s medications and they work, it’s likely not one of the other diseases.
This is what some people believe to be Accelerating Parkinson’s, but is actually caused by a stressful period in your life. If you are stressed, worried, anxious, or depressed, these can manifest themselves as worsening symptoms. You may think your disease is progressing quickly, which could add to the peak. The difference here is that, after the stress goes away (let’s say a big move or other change in your life), your Parkinson’s will return to what was “normal” for you before the stressors began. The human body and brain are very resilient, and can bounce back from a lot.
This is what we might consider Parkinson’s normal tendency. The disease develops slowly over a number of years, and progresses slowly over a number of years. I have seen people move from one stage of Parkinson’s to another in 20 years. A lot of this slow progression has to do with how you treat your body. Do you give it the medications you need to keep going? Do you eat the right diet (not a fad diet, but real food that is tailored for your body)? Do you get daily exercise? Do you maintain a positive attitude and outlook on life? These all contribute to how your body reacts to the disease. Much of how your body progresses is in your control, believe it or not!
We wanted to save the best for last. While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, and we do not recommend you put you money or your hope in a cure, we do believe we know how to slow down Parkinson’s progression. The secret, again, is diet and exercise. The difference between Plateauing Parkinson’s and Decelerating Parkinson’s? Dedication. People who slow down the disease commit to their health on a daily, even an hourly basis. This isn’t about being obsessive about your disease – it’s about having only healthy items on hand when you feel like snacking, it’s about having easy access to exercise equipment, ready when you are. It’s about dedicating your life to your well-being. We know this is difficult to do, but if you have a choice to live a less-stressful life, take it! You will live longer and you will live better.
You have more control over Parkinson’s than you think you do. It all depends on how you treat your body. If you eat well, exercise regularly, keep stress low, and keep a positive attitude, your Parkinson’s is more likely to progress slowly. The answer to this age-old question is, ultimately, that it depends. However, doing nothing positive for your body and mind is the surest way of having your Parkinson’s progress quickly.
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Nick Pernisco is the Parkinson’s Warrior, a person with Parkinson’s who has dedicated his life to helping others with Parkinson’s. Get the Parkinson’s Warrior book here. Join the discussion on Facebook.