Living with Parkinson’s Disease

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
November 16, 2020

We all need to find the diet, exercise, and work balance that helps us feel our best. This is even more true when you are living with Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson's Disease (PD) can be a scary diagnosis. You don’t know when your next symptom will hit, or what it will be.

We all need to find the diet, exercise, and work balance that helps us feel our best. Really, none of us can afford to ignore our health — though it’s tempting to ignore the signs when things start to go wrong. People with chronic illnesses wake up and take responsibility.


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Living with Parkinson’s

If you have been newly diagnosed, you might find encouragement in personal accounts from other people in your shoes. You can find more than a dozen here, chosen by the Parkinson’s Foundation, which also provides these insights about diet and other strategies for living with Parkinson’s

Adjusting your diet

The right foods will optimize your medications and generally keep you healthy. Although your diet doesn’t need to be out of the ordinary, you may save yourself much trouble if you see a nutritionist soon after your diagnosis.

Levodopa medications work best on an empty stomach. Meals with protein can slow down absorption. If you get nauseated, however, you might do better if you take your medication with applesauce or a small amount of avocado.

Parkinson’s medications can make you dehydrated. Try to drink 8 glasses of water a day and a full glass with medication. However, if drinking water leads to urinary urgency, work with a nutritionist to see how often you can substitute food with a high water content: celery, butternut squash, grapefruit, strawberries, or watermelon.

Some people lose weight with Parkinson’s because of nausea and difficulty swallowing. Find food you enjoy with healthy fats (nuts and avocado) to keep up your calories. Exercise and spicy foods may stimulate your appetite.

Parkinson’s can also slow the movement of the colon and trigger constipation. Eat fiber — brown rice, fiber-rich cereal, bread, fruit, and beans.

Parkinson’s increases the risk of thinning bones. Keep walking and using appropriate weights. Also work with a nutritionist to make sure you are getting enough of the right nutrients, including vitamin D. Good sources are fortified milk and milk products, egg yolks, and fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon.

Stay away from sugar, alcohol and caffeine near bedtime, as they may interrupt sleep.

Snack on small quantities of walnuts, cashews and other nuts as well as berries.

Make sure you’re eating enough vegetables and omega-3-rich fish. If you don’t like fish, talk to your doctor about omega-3 supplements.


People with PD are short of dopamine, which is at the center of our drive for pleasure. So you may lose sexual desire. Also, many drugs — including antihistamines, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, drugs for high blood pressure, and alcohol and tobacco — interfere with our sex lives. Of the PD drugs, only the anticholinergics — trihexyphenidyl (formerly artane) and benztropine (cogentin) — are linked to impotency or loss of desire. Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your doctors!

Bathroom activities

Again, working with an occupational therapist early will help you get off to good start and plan ahead.

  • Install handrails in bathtubs and showers; don’t rely on towel bars or faucets. Install a shelf in the tub or shower area so you do not have to bend to pick up items.
  • Place non-skid rubber bath mats in all bathtubs and shower stalls.
  • Use a handheld showerhead if you sit on a tub transfer bench or shower chair while showering.
  • Use rubber-backed kitchen rugs in the bathroom.
  • Wash with pump soap instead of bar soap, which is hard to hold and can leave a dangerous, slippery film on the floor.
  • Sit down to brush your teeth, shave, or blow dry your hair. This will help prevent falls and conserve energy. Prop your elbows on the vanity or sink. Use electric razors and toothbrushes and a hands-free hair dryer.
  • Use an elevated toilet seat, or install a sturdy toilet frame to offer stability and get up safely with less effort.
  • Keep a nightlight on in the bathroom in case you have to use the bathroom at night.
  • Try to double void: wait a few minutes on the toilet after you have gone. Try going again to make sure your bladder is completely emptied.


We all need to build physical activity into our lives.

  • Walk wherever you can.
  • Play some upbeat music and dance.
  • Call the Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636) to find a nearby exercise group.


In the early stages, if you take precautions it may be safe to drive.

  • Don’t listen to the radio, talk on the phone, or eat or drink while driving.
  • Don’t drive at night if you have vision changes.
  • Do not drive if you feel tired or your medication is wearing off.
  • Stick to familiar routes and non-peak driving hours.
  • Do regular neck and trunk stretching exercises so you can turn around to back up or watch traffic.
  • Take a defensive driving course.

Getting dressed

You have many options that could make it easier to get dressed:


Put dishes on rubber mats to prevent them from slipping. Try weighted utensils and cups or using cups with lids or straws. Liftware’s handle overcomes a tremor. If you could benefit but can’t afford this device, call the Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636). See other ideas here.

This long list may seem overwhelming, but you can build new habits and acquire equipment as you go along. If keeping one step ahead of your symptoms helps you feel in control, you might invest in aids that make things easier, though not strictly necessary.


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November 16, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN