Living with Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is caused by a degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. It affects body movement and coordination. Though symptoms vary from patient to patient, most people experience muscle tremors and limb stiffening, sleep disturbances and mood disorders. While there is currently no known cure, there are many treatment plans available to help you alleviate symptoms.

Did you know that there are many notable figures have battled Parkinson’s and have lived rewarding and satisfying lives? Read on to see how these individuals found happiness and purpose living with Parkinson’s.

Notable Figures Who Battled Parkinson’s

Muhamad Ali

known as ‘The Greatest’ heavyweight champion in the world. Among defeating boxing legends Joe Frazier and George Foreman, Ali spent many years fighting a much more frightening adversary: Parkinson’s Disease. He is known as saying, “I have Parkinson’s disease, but Parkinson’s disease doesn’t have me.” Ali devoted the last thirty years of his life to raising public awareness of the disorder. Ali died in 2016 at 74 years of age.

George H. W. Bush

Bush is also a great example of how staying active throughout life can promote longevity. Passing on Nov. 30, 2019, Bush lived until the age of 94. He was diagnosed with vascular Parkinson’s, identified by symptoms of slow movements and difficulty with walking and balance. Bush lived a full life in which he dedicated much of his retirement to humanitarian efforts.

Neil Diamond

Famous singer/songwriter (“Sweet Caroline”) Neil Diamond retired from the road due to Parkinson’s in 2018. However, Diamond refuses to let Parkinson’s get the better of him, stating that, “I’m doing pretty well. I’m active. I take my meds. I do my workouts. I’m in pretty good shape […] I want to stay productive.”  Though Diamond has retired from touring, he continues to sing and lives a full and happy life with his wife and two sons.

Michael J. Fox

Out of everyone, Fox is the most noteable figure to have battled Parkinson’s. Fox was diagnosed at age 29 with Parkinson’s and is one of the leading faces in the fight against this disease. Upon disclosing his condition in 1998, he committed himself to the campaign for increased Parkinson’s research. He is the world’s largest non-profit funder of Parkinson’s drug development. Since 2012, Fox has been back to acting, starring in “The Michael J. Fox Show” and has had multiple guest star roles in hit dramas.

Treating Parkinson’s Disease

As there is no known cure, there is no standard treatment for Parkinson’s. Treatment, including medication and surgical therapy, is different for each individual based on his or her symptoms.

Usually, treating Parkinson’s is a “team effort” involving not only your neurologist but also a wide range of specialists. Some doctors on the team include occupational therapists, physical therapists, and social workers. There are many procedures being researched on how to best beat the disease. One of the most promising involves the transplantation of fetal dopamine neurons into the brain. The hope is that these cells will be able to re-grow the damaged dopamine-producing nerve cells. To learn more, click here.

Tips for Living with Parkinson’s Disease


It’s not uncommon for people with Parkinson’s to lose weight, have trouble swallowing, or feel nauseated from medications. Nutritional studies show that it is important to eat a variety of foods from each food category: fruits, vegetables, and meats. Keep your weight in the healthy range for your age, and make sure to not undereat or overeat. In addition, try to cut down on sugar, salt, and saturated fats, and drink 8 cups of water each day. And, of course, a healthy diet must go along with a healthy exercise routine.


Pre-clinical work shows that exercise has protective effects on brain cells. It also helps you more efficiently make use of your brain’s dopamine levels. Studies suggest that symptoms may progress more slowly in people who exercise.

  • For balance, consider tai chi and yoga
  • To improve coordination and agility, consider dancing or boxing
  • For those with limited mobility, seated aerobic exercises can give a challenging workout that raises the heart rate
  • For dystonia, try lower impact exercises like water aerobics or walking
  • To target freezing of gait or falls, find a Parkinson’s-specific therapy program that helps with larger movements with walking that help with fall prevention.

Stress Management

Alongside exercise, managing your anxiety levels is also important. Stress can have a big influence on PD symptoms (tremors, rigidity and balance issues). While exercising and going about your daily activities, keep these tips in mind to manage your stress:

  • Deep Breathing Strategies
    • Diaphragmatic Breathing: when breathing in through your nose, fill your diaphragm with air (stomach should move outwards). When releasing the air, your stomach should collapse inward.
    • Box Breathing: breathe in for 4 seconds (to full capacity), hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds (releasing all air) and then hold for 4 seconds. Repeat for up to 4 minutes.
  • Environment
    • Explore aromatherapy
    • Decrease lighting in the room
    • Listen to soft, slow, rhythmic music

At the end of the day, keeping your physical and mental health in mind is a great way to cope with Parkinson’s in your own life.