Dear Donna:

A dear friend and colleague I’ve worked with for many years is the caregiver for her husband, who has Parkinson’s disease. For a long time, she was able to manage his care at home with help from their teenaged children. Several months ago, however, they had to hire professional caregivers through an agency.

Recently, her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s dementia. Several of us at work are wondering what this means and how we can help support our friend and her husband.

Do you have any advice?


Theresa in Kalkaska, MI

Learn More about Parkinson’s Dementia

Dear Theresa:

Thank you for your letter! It provides us with an opportunity to share information on this disease and how it can impact an entire family.

Researchers say 50 to 80 percent of adults living with Parkinson’s will also develop dementia. The condition can create unique safety issues for the person with Parkinson’s and their loved ones.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s dementia are similar to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. While the disease affects everyone differently, the most common signs often include:

  • Memory loss and forgetfulness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble maintaining a conversation
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Frightening hallucinations
  • Quick to anger or tearfulness
  • Depression or extreme sadness
  • Difficulty finding the right words
  • Decline in judgment and decision-making

As you’ve probably witnessed with your friend, caring for someone with this disease is difficult. It can require around-the-clock assistance, leaving the caregiver exhausted and stressed. But there are a few ways friends can help.

  • Make very specific offers to help: Instead of saying “Let me know if you need anything,” try “I’m going to the grocery store tonight. What can I pick up for you?” Or “Can I stay with your husband for an hour or so while you go out for coffee or have a pedicure?”
  • Drop off meals: People who are taking care of a loved one often put their own wellness on the back burner. They skip exercising and rely on convenience foods. You and your colleagues might consider dropping off healthy meals a few times a week. Apps like Meal Train make it easier to work together.
  • Be a good listener: Sometimes the best way to help a family caregiver is by providing a sympathetic ear. Your friend is likely experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions during this time. Encouraging her to talk might help her process her feelings.
  • Ask her what she needs: It might be a good idea just to ask your friend what she needs help with that day or week. Many caregivers are reluctant to ask for or accept help. Be prepared to find ways to work around that resistance.
  • Explore respite care: You mentioned your friend was working with a home care agency for additional support. Another option she might not be aware of is respite care in an assisted living community. Her husband can be a short-term guest of the community to give your friend a break. It might be helpful to explore what is available in your city and share the list with her.

I hope this information is useful to you! Please call the Heritage community in your area if you have any questions.

Kind regards,