Treatment for Parkinson’s disease is unique to every person living with the disease and often includes a variety of interventions, like medication, exercise, and physical therapy.
Building a medication regimen for Parkinson’s involves finding the right balance of medications, timing, and lifestyle adjustments.
In the hospital, people with Parkinson’s often experience avoidable complications due to medication errors. Being prepared and advocating for yourself significantly helps.
There is no standard treatment for Parkinson’s disease (PD), a neurological disorder that progresses over time and affects nearly 1 million Americans. Treatment is based on each person’s symptoms and priorities. No two people living with PD experience the same symptoms, disease progression, or response to treatment. To date, there is still no treatment that can halt or reverse the symptoms of PD. Instead, the goal is to minimize symptoms and maximize quality of life.
There are many medications that can help address movement and non-movement symptoms. People with Parkinson’s will often take a variety of these medications.
As you work with your Parkinson’s care team to find the right medication regimen, keep these health and safety tips in mind.
Prescription medications: Talk to your doctor
Parkinson’s occurs when the cells in the brain that make dopamine start to die. Dopamine is the chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement coordination. Because most Parkinson’s symptoms result from a lack of dopamine, many Parkinson’s medications are designed to either:
- Briefly replenish dopamine; or
- Imitate the action of dopamine
These are called dopaminergic medications, and they help address movement-related symptoms like muscle stiffness, movement coordination, and tremor. Levodopa is the most common and prescribed example of a dopaminergic medication in PD.
Every person living with Parkinson’s should be individually assessed to determine the medications they need as part of their treatment plan. Doctors prescribe medications depending on a person’s symptoms, other health conditions, current medications, and age. Metabolism and individual need will also impact the prescribed dosage. A Parkinson’s medication regimen often includes multiple medications that are taken at different doses and at precise times throughout the day.
Talk to your doctor about PD medication options, as well as the potential interactions between medications with other drugs, vitamins, herbal supplements, and certain foods.
Finding the right balance of medications and lifestyle can take time. However, treating Parkinson’s can reduce symptoms and improve the health and well-being of those living with the disease.
Understanding “on” and “off” times
People living with Parkinson’s may experience changes in the ability to move throughout the day. These changes are called motor fluctuations or “on-off” fluctuations and occur as medication levels in the bloodstream vary.
- “On” time: the periods when a medication begins to take effect. During this period people often experience good symptom control and often function well.
- “Off” time: the periods when a medication is wearing off and symptoms can become more noticeable, and movement becomes more challenging.
Monitoring and understanding “on” and “off” times with your medications can help you better prepare for changes throughout your day, schedule activities like exercise, and stay safe.
Medications and hospital safety: Critical for people with Parkinson's
Every year, more than 300,000 people with Parkinson’s will receive care in the hospital for both planned and unplanned reasons. While staying in the hospital, three out of four people with PD will not receive their medications on time, which can result in complications, extended hospital lengths of stay and other negative outcomes. People with Parkinson’s need their medication on time, every time.
Parkinson’s medication regimes can be complex, involving multiple drugs taken at different dosages with precise timing. These regimens can be challenging to maintain in a hospital setting where staff may not realize that even a 15-minute delay can impact functioning and mobility for people with PD. It is important to emphasize to medical staff that delaying or stopping PD medication can affect symptoms and can be dangerous.
Being prepared for a hospital stay can help you avoid unnecessary complications. The Parkinson’s Foundation Aware in Care Hospital Safety kit provides live-saving resources for any hospital visit, including the:
- Hospital Care Action Plan highlighting the six steps to optimum care
- Hospital Care Fact Sheet educating the hospital care team about Parkinson’s and the steps they can take to improve safety for people with Parkinson’s in the hospital
- Medical Alert Card easily informing your care team about the essentials of Parkinson’s and clearly stating your emergency contact information
To order or download the Aware in Care Hospital Safety kit and its components visit Parkinson.org/AwareinCare.
Remember that medications are only one part of a Parkinson’s treatment plan. Exercise, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and mental health support can also contribute to symptom relief and improvement. Work with your care team to identify what works best for you and, when possible, find a PD specialist.
For more information about medications and treatment for Parkinson’s, visit Parkinson.org. For all your Parkinson’s questions, call the Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (1-800-473-4636).