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Loneliness, Fear and Parkinson's disease

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

Is loneliness impacting your Parkinson's?

One of the more innovative doctors studying and treating Parkinson's is Dr. Laurie Mischley. You can find several of her YouTube videos on this blog site. Dr. Mischley has been building patient survey data across a wide variety of areas not typically surveyed in research studies. Through this unique approach her team has found numerous factors that have historically been missed in the medical literature.

Dr. Mischley's research found that the number one predictor of disease progression is loneliness. There can be a natural tendency to withdraw from social interactions with a diagnosis of PD because of self consciousness of the perception of others. Over the past year this loneliness and isolation has been compounded by the societal pressure to isolate and remove ourselves from interacting with each other. I believe that Dr. Mischley's research highlights the importance of human connection to all our health, not just PWP. We are human and we need each other to have a full healthy, human experience.

The information about loneliness and Parkinson's really touched and saddened both John and me. We have seen how the past year of forced isolation has impacted many of our friends with Parkinson's. We lost our weekly in person connection to our Parkinson's support community when the biking and boxing classes were cancelled. For many months people were afraid to gather for any reason. Many have reported increased progression of their symptoms and more sadness and depression. These feelings can actually create physical chemistry that can worsen the disease.

Parkinson's also has an underlying connection to fight or flight chemistry at its core. Here is a good summary of the stress response, its impact on Parkinson's and the vital need to encourage relaxation in Parkinson's. Fight or flight mechanisms can be triggered by many things but this past year has been particularly challenging on this front, putting many in a constant state of fear. When we allow our minds to focus on our fears, this also creates chemistry in the body.

So how do we step outside this paradigm of fear that is worsening our loneliness? How do we help each other reconnect?

Some classes have gone virtual to continue to foster connection in the community. Parkinson's Pointe here in Colorado offers a number of classes and a game night to connect the community through technology. John's biking group has setup virtual cycling classes for those who have a stationary bike at home. You have find these at Pedaling for Parkinson's. There are many Facebook communities that provide some level of connection but I don't think really address the isolation and loneliness fully.

We still need each other in a human and personal way – visual connection looking each other in the eye, a gentle touch and the shared energy we create in community. Walking through our fears, reclaiming our personal power and connection are important to health and healing.

Until in person groups are back in full swing, let each of us commit to calling each other to check in or to organize an outdoor activity such as a walk or a meeting in a park where people with different comfort levels might be more apt to participate. Call someone with Parkinson's and ask them how they are doing. Invite PWP them out for coffee or dinner. Together we can overcome the fear, isolation and loneliness and step out stronger in 2021 to a brighter future.

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