Visiting loved ones with Parkinson’s disease during the pandemic

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Author: Simge Eva DoganPublished: 3 December 2020

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How can you best prepare to visit loved ones living with Parkinson’s disease over the holidays – and what precautions should you take during the pandemic? A guide by the Michael J Fox Foundation outlines what to expect

Billions of people around the world have been asked to stay at home during the coronavirus crisis. With the holiday season in swing, restrictions are easing in some countries – and many people with Parkinson’s disease may be looking for ways to safely connect with family and friends.

A newly updated guide by the Michael J Fox Foundation – named ‘Visiting with Family Members Who Have Parkinson’s’ – shares practical tips and guidelines on how to prepare for visiting during the pandemic.

Dr Rachel Dolhun, movement disorder specialist and vice president of medical communications at the Michael J Fox Foundation, says: “Many of us are wondering how to travel, celebrate traditions and gather with loved ones, especially if those loved ones have Parkinson’s. And while seeing somebody with Parkinson’s may be safe, there’s a lot to consider right now: the risks of Covid for them and for you, what their visit could look like, whether that’s in person, online or at the window of somebody who lives in assisted living or at a nursing home.”

She adds that it’s important to take care of your personal wellbeing too while planning a visit during the pandemic – and that communication is key. “Everyone has different comfort levels and concerns when it comes to Covid and every family has its own traditions to celebrate. Talk about your feelings and concerns, so that you can craft a visit that works for everyone who’s involved. Talk about who will be meeting where, what you’ll do beforehand and what you’ll actually do during the visit.”

Dolhun shares three steps to help people plan for visiting loved ones with Parkinson’s disease:

1. Prepare for the unexpected

“Often what people hear about their loved ones Parkinson’s and what they see, don’t match up. This can happen for different reasons. Your family member may not tell you much because they don’t want you to worry, or they may not recognise certain symptoms, such as mood or memory changes.”

2. Extend your visit

“If you have the flexibility, try to add an extra day or two onto your trip and don’t pack your itinerary too full. This could allow you more time to focus on your family member outside of holiday celebrations and maybe even visit the doctor together.”

3. Observe your loved ones and their care partner

“During your visit, watch for certain symptoms like balance problems or falling, which can signal the need for a change in treatment or support. But don’t forget about the care partner. Look for signs of burnout such as fatigue, depression or irritability.”

Headshot of Dr Rachel Dolhun, vice president of medical communications at the Michael J Fox Foundation.

Dr Rachel Dolhun is vice president of medical communications at the Michael J Fox Foundation.

Download the Michael J Fox Foundation’s guide to visiting family members who have Parkinson’s disease.

Read more:

Mindfulness toolkit: maintaining your mental health during lockdown

Dealing with a diagnosis: a guide to Parkinson’s

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