I wonder how many people would be willing to add another pill or two to their Parkinson’s regimen if it meant their motor symptoms might be less severe and the overall quality of their life might improve.
No mystery here. I think most people would consider enhancing the effectiveness of their treatment with additional medication. Well, stress and its sister disorders, depression and anxiety, are known to make tremor worse, interfere with sleep, affect memory and cognition, depress the immune system and to disrupt male sexual function. There are pharmacological treatments available: anti-depressants, anxiolytics, sleeping medications, memory drugs, Viagra.
What if patients could, instead, be taught simple techniques for symptom management that might allow them to avoid taking those additional pills?
Now, folks with PD aren’t alone in their tendency to yawn when alternatives for managing stress are suggested. However, we know that men and women who have PD are also experiencing anxiety and/or depression at a higher rate than the general public. We know that virtually everyone who has the disease is faced with a mountain of stress and many of the collateral conditions described above. Stress is pretty much a lifelong enemy that accompanies a neurological disorder like PD.
Behavioral therapies have been shown to be very effective for the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression. They take a little effort to learn but require some commitment to employ. You can learn them from a therapist but you can also purchase books that teach the same techniques. There are even apps for your smartphone that can guide you if you are motivated to try self-help. If you throw in support groups, exercise classes, yoga, Tai-Chi, and meditation, you are looking at a lot of tools that can help you avoid one or more additional pills.
Behavioral therapies focus on symptom management. They target what is bothering an individual and provide a set of tools the person can employ to treat these symptoms, as well as new ones that may arise in the future. They are validated by a lot of research and are typically as effective as medication. Most importantly, they have no medical side effects.
So why don’t more people use the behavioral therapies? Most Americans prefer the pill. After all taking it, perhaps for a very extended period of time, somehow seems to take less effort. Pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of money for television and print advertising to convince everyone their products are the answer. These efforts sustain an illusion that the best first choice for managing stress and its sisters is through modern chemistry.
For folks who have PD, this choice is a curious one. PD is the epitome of loss of control yet so many people are willing to surrender even more control in favor of another medication.
If you have young onset Parkinson’s and are feeling battered by stress, anxiety, and depression, regaining some control in your life seems like a worthwhile thing to pursue. These therapies are not about self-control but rather of returning control to the self.