Six Tips for Patients Newly Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease: A Neurologist Weighs In

Approximately 60,000 Americans will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s diseases this year. For some of them, that diagnosis will come directly from me.

As a movement disorders specialist, I’ve diagnosed many patients with Parkinson’s disease. Each time, I try to put myself in their shoes as best as I can. My goal, always, is to approach patients with empathy and understanding, answer their questions openly and honestly, and help them recognize that there is a positive path forward.

Some patients believe that Parkinson’s disease is life-ending. This is not true. Patients with Parkinson’s disease will experience some changes to their lifestyle, but they can still live full, happy, and long lives.

This brings me to my #1 piece of advice: Stay positive. Remember that a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis does not mean it is time to give up. It only means it is time start fighting. Treatments have come a long way, and there are methods to successfully manage the disease.

Here are five other tips for anyone newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s:

  1. Allow yourself to feel complex and varied emotions
  2. Don’t Google your condition
  3. Evaluate your lifestyle
  4. Find the best physician for you
  5. Build a support system

Allow yourself to feel complex and varied emotions

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen firsthand how the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can create varied and complex emotions. While it’s important to stay positive overall, it’s also OK to feel overwhelmed, anxious, or unprepared at times—and your feelings are likely to change as things evolve. This is normal. Take it one day at a time.

Don’t Google your condition

I know the impulse to look up your condition may be almost impossible to ignore, but random Googling is not a good idea because there is so much inaccurate information on the internet. Instead, ask your doctor or movement disorders specialist for a list of resources—including reputable websites—where you can read more about your condition. The information that you read will help you prepare a list of questions you can ask your doctor at the next visit.

Evaluate your lifestyle

Healthy lifestyle choices can boost your mental and physical health. Make sure you are eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep. Most people living with Parkinson’s disease should eat a variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, milk and dairy products, protein-rich foods such as meat and beans, as well as nuts, olive oil, fish, and eggs for their beneficial fats. Exercise is also key, with research showing that physical activity can improve many Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Find the best physician for you

Seek out a movement disorders specialist who does not make you feel rushed, answers all of your questions, makes you feel comfortable, and is willing to discuss all possible treatment options. It’s very important to find someone you trust, since this physician is likely to play a role in your life for the long-term. If you’re not sure about their treatment recommendations, seek out a second, or even third, opinion. You can learn more about how we treat Parkinson’s disease at New Jersey Brain and Spine, or find a specialist on the Movement Disorder Society or Parkinson Foundation.

See how Drs. Azmi and Clar describe their approach to care within the Movement Disorders Center.

Build a support system

Surround yourself with family and friends with whom you can talk openly about your fears and concerns. This will help you process your emotions and combat any anxiety you may feel. Don’t hesitate to ask directly for the support you need—your loved ones will want to help you on the journey, but may not be sure how best to support you.

Dr. Elana Clar is one of the most highly trained neurologists in the country for the treatment of movement disorders. Following her residency at Georgetown University, she completed a two-year movement disorders fellowship at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center, where she obtained subspecialty training in deep brain stimulation. She treats all types of movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, atypical parkinsonism, ataxia, dystonia, spasmodic torticollis, essential tremor, hemifacial spasm, blepharospasm and vocal/motor tics. Learn more about Dr. Clar.