For those who care for someone with Parkinson's disease

Parkinson's disease Caregiver Commentary

Attitude is everything
By Susan Hamburger

Editors Note: Susan was caregiver to her husband Stan, diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1980. He passed away on August 12, 2008 at the age of 73.

Being a caregiver is occasionally rewarding and makes me feel good because I love my husband, but it often feels like a stressful problem that I just can't seem to solve. I can't figure out why I feel down in the dumps or anxious or unmotivated or angry or frustrated sometimes. Then I remind myself that my life is now controlled by an unasked-for and unwelcome chronic disease and that my life partner is changing in spite of how hard I try to help him.

There are various ways to deal with this difficult situation and believe it or not, we can make a choice as to which way we go. You can see things positively or negatively, optimistically or pessimistically. Call it what you wish, you make the choice, but these basic attitudes are self-perpetuating and therefore self-fulfilling attitudes. If you choose negative and pessimistic, then everything will be approached that way. If there is a downturn in the Parkinsonian's health, you might look at that change as long-term and permanent, or maybe caused by something you did. If you choose the opposite attitude, you will feel that they are going through a bad time right now, but they will bounce back and function better sometime soon. In our case, Stan does bounce back, even after 21 years with PD, and regains most of what he had been unable to do but not all of it (that seems to be the nature of the progression of his disease). I talk to him during the bad times and remind him that things will improve, because they always have, and I try to point out the things he can still do, that I still love him and I will not abandon him. Talking positively to the Parkinsonian also creates a more positive and peaceful attitude in them. They see that you think things will get better and are optimistic and voila! That's what they expect to happen.

Here are some keys to positive thoughts and productive living that are worth considering:

It seems easy doesn't it? If you change what you say to yourself from negative to positive, your thoughts, feelings, and actions will change accordingly. Attitudes are the cause as well as the result of your actions. If you have a positive attitude you will act in a positive way. If you are happy, you will smile. The reverse is also true, so really think about what you say to yourselves in your private moments. Give yourself credit for all that you do, realize that you are doing the best that you can, do the things that make you feel happy and more satisfied with life and don't be critical of yourself. It's your choice!

*"Positive Caregiver Attitudes", James R. Sherman, PhD, Pathway Books

About the Author
Susan Hamburger earned a Bachelors Degree from the University of Wisconsin in Elementary Education, and two Master's Degrees, in Educational Psychology and Biostatistics/ Epidemiology. She has been a kindergarten teacher, a school psychologist, and retired as Biostatistician at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Susan has served on the Board of local Parkinson's disease support group organizations since the early 1990's. She has served Chair of the Patient Services Committee, Vice-President and President of the Washington DC area chapters of the Amercican Parkinson's Disease Association and the National Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Susan has also spent many hours on Capitol Hill, lobbying our Senators and Representatives to increase the funding for Parkinson's disease research.

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