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5 tips for communicating with Parkinson’s patients

5 tips for communicating with Parkinson’s patients

We use our voice or facial expressions to convey what we want to say. But people with Parkinson’s disease will find it difficult to communicate with others, as their speech and even handwriting get affected. As a family member, it gets tough to communicate with someone with Parkinson’s. Trying to decipher what they are saying becomes a task. However, don’t leave them alone or stop communicating with them. All they need is support from their near and dear ones. Just be patient while communicating with a Parkinson’s patient.

HealthShots consulted Dr P.N. Renjen, Senior Consultant, Neurology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi, to know about Parkinson’s disease and its impact on communication skills.

parkinson's and communication
Parkinson’s Disease has a major impact on communication skills. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What is Parkinson’s disease?

You might recall the time when legendary boxer Muhammad Ali died in 2016, decades after he developed Parkinson’s disease. Dr Renjen describes it as an advancing neurological disorder that affects the nervous system as well as the organs connected to nerves of the body. It is a serious condition that results in unintentional or unmanageable movements. So, you will find people with Parkinson’s dealing with issues such as:

• Sore muscles
• Balancing issues
• Trembling of hands and legs
• Poor coordination.

Usually, Parkinson’s disease develops after 60 years of age, but in some cases, it can strike adults as young as 20.

Parkinson’s disease and communication skills

Parkinson’s disease can have a variety of effects on speech, with many people speaking quietly and in monotone. They don’t actually show much emotion and speech occasionally has a breathy or hoarse quality. Parkinson’s disease patients may stumble over their words, mumble, or even falter at the end of sentences. The majority of people speak slowly, but some speak quickly, even stammering or spluttering. Speech issues may be exacerbated by Parkinson’s motor symptoms like reduced body language, lack of movement, and hunched posture (signs of Parkinson’s disease). These can send erroneous nonverbal cues or impair the ability to express emotion. Non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as memory or thinking (cognitive) issues, can also affect speech. Ultimately, speech issues can make it challenging to communicate with loved ones and friends.

parkinson's and communication
Be patient while communicating with a family member with Parkinson’s. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Ways to improve communication with a family member who has Parkinson’s

First of all, you need to know that if your loved one has Parkinson’s then they need support and patience from you. You can take help of a physiotherapist as physiotherapy can help them manage Parkinson’s. As for communication with them, you can enhance it by doing the following:

1. Initiate face-to-face interactions

Observe them while speaking and focus on their body language, gestures and expressions. So, face-to-face interactions with them is very important.

2. Ask simple and direct questions

By sticking to simple questions, they can respond in yes, no or in fewer words. Longer sentences will be a challenge for them.

3. Repeat topics

If you do this, it will help them to understand better. Repeating topics will be good for memory as well.

4. Speak slowly and clearly

This will give your loved one time to understand the conversation in their own pace. So, go slow and be clear while interacting with them.

5. Use creative and interesting ways of communication

You can use gesticulations or walk while talking to keep your family member with Parkinson’s engaged in the conversation.

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