How do I get Mom to see a doctor when she's in denial that she might have symptoms of Parkinson's disease?

4 answers | Last updated: Apr 18, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Something is wrong with my mother, and I'm afraid it's Parkinson's disease. When she sits with her right leg crossed over her left, the right foot shakes. And she moves a lot more slowly when she's eating or getting dressed. However, she refuses to see a doctor about it. What can I do about this?

Expert Answers

Susan Imke is a gerontological nurse practitioner in Fort Worth, Texas, and coauthor of The Comfort of Home for Parkinson's Disease: A Guide for Caregivers.

It isn't clear from this description that your mother has Parkinson's disease, but you're wise to encourage her to have a doctor evaluate her symptoms. Your mom's reluctance to see a physician could mean that she suspects something is wrong, but she's not ready to deal with it yet.

If the problem is Parkinson's disease, unfortunately it will get worse and at some point require medical attention. In the meantime, if she absolutely won't go to the doctor, then I think you have to respect that. You may find this difficult, but parents are adults, not minors. You can subtly keep coming back to the issue, though. If you keep saying, "I think there are some really good medicines for the symptoms that you're having, Mom," sooner or later, she may want to feel better, and that could motivate her enough to get an evaluation. Or sometimes a person will be more likely to listen if another family member offers the suggestion.

In my experience, you can usually get an older person to consult her regular doctor who she's seen over the years for a routine health matter. For example, you could say, "You know, Mom, they've got the new shingles vaccine out. I would really hate for you to get shingles."

So you might convince your parent to make a medical appointment without focusing the entire visit on this one concern about Parkinson's disease. Then, if she'll let you accompany her to see the doctor, that's a good thing to do. If Mom doesn't mention her shaking foot, you can bring it up.

But if she won't let you into the exam room with her, you can still accompany her to the appointment and wait outside. When the reception desk staff initially takes her information, you might mention that you have some concerns and ask if it's possible to speak with the doctor or nurse for a minute before the appointment.

Alternatively, you could call the doctor after the visit, but he won't be able to discuss your mother's situation unless she has signed a statement authorizing the clinic to share her medical information with you. So see if she'll put your name on the "OK to discuss with" list at the time of the office visit.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

You've probably already mentioned to her that there MIGHT be medications that can help her (without mentioning Parkinson's), and it would be easy to check it out.


On the other hand, if she doesn't go, you might be a little lucky,  In many ways I wish my 80+ year old father didn't know what he had. since his diagnosis, it has caused him more mental anguish than anything else. 

Ladydawn answered...

The symptoms you describe could be part of aging or depression. There are other medical possibilities as well. Denial itself suggests that your mother is concerned and afraid; she needs gentle but firm direction and emotional support from someone who loves her.

It is probaby time for a general checkup anyway - baselines are important and need updating. Is your mother willing to do that? If she is willing to schedule a checkup, you can alert the doctor's office to the concerns that you have to help direct their questions and observations...just in case. You can even send or drop off a written list of the things that you have observed. I'll bet there are a few more.

I agree with Susan that the two symptoms may not be Parkinson's disease but should we be wrong, waiting to initiate treatment and therapies would be a mistake.

Does your mother exercise? If her movements are slower, if she is livig in fear of being sick, she needs encouragement to become proactive. Is she willing to exercise with you to an exercise video or to attend a seniors' exercise class? It's time for her to stretch, to move, to get those endorphins going.

How are her other fine muscle movements? Writing? Typing? Hobbies? Does she have any pain in her fingers and hands? Shoulder or neck pain?

Do you think she is having trouble swallowing? Does food taste the different to her? Find our about her sense of smell. (You can easily discern this without a direct question) Aroma can also influence the sense of taste. While I assume the the slow movements when eating are related to arm movement, there could also be dentition issues as well.

Knowing the answers about the above issues as well as sleeping problems, urinary problems and the like, you can provide her doctors with more information which could assist a diagnosis.

If it takes Susan's suggestion of getting a vaccination to get your mother to the doctor, take advantage of that.

Aging parents may be adults but they sometimes behave like children. Don't coax; set your argument target of physical or vaccination and follow through with love and enthusiasm.

Ladydawn answered...

I agree with Susan Imke that these signs do not necessarily point to Parkinson's disease, it is clear that your mother is not getting any younger.

She could just be exhibiting signs of getting older. The tremor when the leg is crossed is not exactly a resting or static tremor. While it is not an action tremor, it appears to occur when stress is put on one leg - circulation is impeded in her right leg - the one on the top.

It is also possible that the slowed movements are due to feeling tired, to pain from arthritis, to being depressed.

That doesn't mean that this wouldn't be a good time for a check up, it probably is. Whether her reluctance is the ostrich effect (if I bury my head in the sand the danger won't see me and pass me by) or financial, or ego (I couldn't be getting older - clearly related to who let that old woman into my mirror?) you are going to need one of the carrots already suggested.

If you haven't done so already speak to her about her future medical wishes and assure her that you will abide by them.

Once you've followed the excellent suggestions and have gotten your mother to the doctor's office, plan to have her sign a release which will allow you to speak to the office in the future (please do this with all of her health care professionals).

You can call the office ahead of time to remind them if you've paved the way with your mom ahead of time. Even if she is reluctant, explain that eventually you may need her permission and a future condition might prevent it. (Since you have prepared the way ahead of time, it should be easier.)

It is difficult to get older and to realize that you no longer have 100% control. Parents would rather remain the ones in charge but it is absolutely necessary to have contingency plans.