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Dealing With Relationship Changes

Article written by Jackie Hunt Christensen.

As your Parkinson’s progresses, you will probably discover that relationships with key fixtures in your life will change in ways you may not always welcome. That is true, in part, because certain symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as difficulty speaking or “facial masking” can interfere with your ability to express yourself.

The main thing to realize is that your body language and speaking ability play a big part in your role as a parent, spouse, friend, grandparent or employee. And when changes happen in this area of your life it can be distressing and confusing for everyone because those closest to you are used to responding to certain cues.

How to improve communication after a Parkinson’s diagnosis

Clearly, all of us are born to connect. And, not surprisingly, our facial expressions and voice have a big impact on our ability to communicate with others. For example, having a strong, expressive voice is generally seen as a sign of power, while being soft-spoken is often equated with timidity.

Consider the following scenario.  A woman who was once assertive and competitive in the workplace can no longer motivate her employees with impassioned pep talks. As a result, she loses confidence in herself and believes she no longer measures up.  Her performance suffers and she resigns from her position.

This scenario illustrates how facial masking, or the blank-like expression due to rigid muscles, and a soft, “flat” voice can deal quite a blow to a person’s identity. Unfortunately, these symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can bring about major changes in the roles of relationships.

Please bear in mind, however, that while you will likely face these challenges at some point, it is still possible to maintain meaningful, productive relationships. To do so, you will need to address the issues that affect your ability to communicate effectively with the people in your life.

Changing roles in the family

If you are having masking and speech issues early on, it is a good idea to plan for a time when you may need someone else to speak on your behalf. If you do not have a spouse or partner to assist you, you may have to turn to one of your children or grandchildren.  It is imperative to find someone you trust, because the truth is that there are family members who will misrepresent the wishes of a loved one for whom they are caring.

Helping friends understand

At some point, you will need to have an honest conversation with your friends about your Parkinson’s disease. Try to maintain connections with upbeat people who understand your condition and are willing to learn more and perhaps even lend a hand when needed. But do not be surprised to learn that not everyone is willing to be in your company when your symptoms worsen.

In the workplace

If you have a position that requires a lot of interaction with other people, you will be under extra stress if you try to hide your disease from them. More importantly, if your speech is affected, others may think that you are drunk or on recreational drugs.  If you want to learn about accommodations you can request from your employer or you believe that you are being discriminated against, you might want to consult with an attorney that specializes in disability law or go to the American with Disabilities Act website at, www.ada.gov.

Singles face unique Challenges

Remember, when it comes to dating and building new friendships, this can be difficult for anyone, let alone for someone living with Parkinson’s disease. Body language and facial expressions are usually the first things on which we are judged. Here are some places where you might find people who will be more understanding:

  • Support groups. This is not limited to Parkinson’s groups. Many cities have groups for people with chronic illnesses.
  • Your doctor’s office. Chances are very good that the people in the waiting room can understand your battles with Parkinson’s. You can become a source of encouragement and support for others as well as receive it.
  • Your place of worship. You could find a sense of belonging and community.
  • Local Parkinson’s organizations.  Attending events or volunteering will help you form tight social bonds.
  • Internet chat rooms and forums. Many single people with Parkinson’s disease have built strong friendships through virtual communities on the Internet.
  • Parkinson’s exercise classes.
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