“Protecting Your Mental Health During COVID-19” – Notes from a caregiver chat

In June, the Parkinson’s Foundation (parkinson.org) hosted an event called “Caregiver Coffee Chat: Protecting Your Mental Health During COVID-19.”

This event featured Martha Anne Tudor, MEd, NCC, LAPC, who discusses how to protect your mental health while sheltering in place (or, slowly rejoining society). Her focus is on caregivers; however, the suggestions in this webinar apply to all of us. This chat contains one comment that is specific to Parkinson’s Disease.

Here’s an excerpt from the introductory remarks:

Most of the news right now isn’t good and there is a lot of uncertainty. We know about the human brain that we don’t do well with uncertainty. Our response is anxiety, worry, stress, and alarm. These initial reactions have been protective in history and have helped us survive. But with the current situation, with so much uncertainty, and no clear end in sight, it is easy to get stuck, and that can be damaging to our physical health, emotional health, immune systems and relationships. There are ways we can take control over how we respond to the things that are happening outside of our control. Uncertainty is always with us, and there are things we can do to not only survive but also come out more resilient.

The speaker encourages us to ask six questions of ourselves each day. She suggested that these are “quarantine-time” questions. However, these questions seem appropriate for every day, with or without a pandemic. The questions are: [Editor’s note: question #6 was re-worded.]

1. What am I grateful for today?
2. Who am I checking in on, or who am I connecting with today?
3. What expectations of normal am I letting go of today?
4. How am I getting outside today?
5. How am I moving my body today?
6. How am I cultivating, creating or inviting beauty into my life today?

The archived recording of this webinar can be found on the Parkinson’s Foundation’s YouTube channel here:  https://youtu.be/6TTVenqalqo

Friend of Brain Support Network, Adrian Quintero, took notes during the caregiver chat and has shared them.

Robin

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“Caregiver Coffee Chat: Protecting Your Mental Health During COVID-19″
Hosted by Parkinson’s Foundation
June 4th, 2020
Notes by Adrian Quintero, Stanford Parkinson’s Community Outreach


Martha Anne Tudor, MEd, NCC, LAPC, is a Mental Health Counselor & Outreach Coordinator Movement and Memory Disorders Program, Department of Neurology, Augusta University/Medical College of Georgia.

Most of the news right now isn’t good and there is a lot of uncertainty. We know about the human brain that we don’t do well with uncertainty. Our response is anxiety, worry, stress, and alarm. These initial reactions have been protective in history and have helped us survive. But with the current situation, with so much uncertainty, and no clear end in sight, it is easy to get stuck, and that can be damaging to our physical health, emotional health, immune systems and relationships.

There are ways we can take control over how we respond to the things that are happening outside of our control. Uncertainty is always with us, and there are things we can do to not only survive but also come out more resilient.

Daily Questions

Martha Anne calls them “Quarantine Daily Questions,” although they are good anytime:

1. What am I grateful for today?

(Participants submit answers over chat. Many people said health of family, many others said nice weather)

We remember in times like this that our attitude and gratitude are not challenges, but they are choices we make.

There is research that shows an attitude of gratitude with improved immune systems. It can help to keep a journal and write 3 things at the end of the day that you’re thankful for.  These can be small things (a good movie, birds chirping, good cup of coffee). In a year you have 1,000 things you are thankful for. This can be a good resource when you are going through a challenging time. Many of these will probably still be true.

Some people have a habit of sharing over dinner with loved ones what went right that day. These types of things we really train ourselves, and the more we look for things to be grateful for, the more it becomes a habit to see it. We might have to be particularly proactive with this right now, as we are bombarded with stressful and scary information.

We need to remember there is good to help balance out the negativity. Another way we can do that is limit our exposure to the media, so we don’t dwell on what is going wrong. Perhaps checking news only once or twice a day, and filling the day with things like activities you enjoy, healing music, and positive relationships.

2. Who am I checking in on, or who am I connecting with today?

(Many participants said a family member, and others said a fitness buddy)

There are multiple levels of benefit to fitness programs such as boxing, as there is also an emotional/ social component to them as well (many programs are happening virtually right now).

Perhaps there is someone in your life who lives alone, or may be more isolated than others, that you can check in on. Isolation is of course so profound now. There aren’t in person fitness programs, church services, or support groups right now as we had before. Connecting with someone might be a phone call or a note you write. It’s important to remind ourselves we are not alone during this time; we are actually very much in it together.

Feelings of isolation are associated with negative health effects such as increased stress, decreased immune systems, etc.

3. What expectations of normal am I letting go of today?

(Participants said attending community events, sticking with schedules, shopping without anxiety)

There is very little that is normal right now. Getting groceries, exercising, even attending doctor appointments are all different these days. It’s important to remember this is probably not the best time to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to learn a new language, or tackle a big project. We are so bombarded with information that is unsettling and worrisome. There are many questions we don’t have answers to, and our nervous systems can barely keep up with what the latest information is about health, finances, and employment. This is a good time to practice some self-compassion, as it is a very stressful time. It is a lot to just wake up, be, and get through the day right now.

We do tend to do better when we are sticking to a schedule. This might be different right now, but it can help to try to get up at the same time everyday, as well as eat meals, exercise and go to bed around the same time everyday. Having some kind of routine can help reinforce a sense of security and control.

There are more options right now to participate in activities that don’t involve leaving your home.

4. How am I getting outside today?

(Participants said taking walks, taking a drive, doing yard work)

Research shows just getting outside/ being outside is so healthy and restorative. There is new research that shows just being around the color green outside is very soothing, and associated with lowering stress levels and being very comforting. The sounds of nature outside, such as birds, wind, stream, help us focus in the here and now, and step back from worry of tomorrow.

This touches on the mindfulness exercises that we know are so helpful. Parkinson.org hosts a Mindfulness Monday every Monday. These are techniques that you can carry with you anywhere you are.

5. How am I moving my body today?

(Participants said taking walks, walking the dog, virtual exercise, cleaning)

There is no way to count the research that we already have about the health benefits of moving your body. It doesn’t have to be a lot. 30 minutes a day is associated with optimum benefits. This could be chair exercises, a walk around the neighborhood, walking a dog (which can also help the isolation we may feel, as a conversation starter with people outdoors). Moving the body is associated with improved immune system and greater physical and psychological resilience. Really all areas of our health are positively impacted, and it may be one of the most powerful tools we have to take control of our own mental health.

6. How are you cultivating, creating or inviting beauty into your life today?

(Participants said gardening, spending time with a loved one)

You may notice many of these touch upon multiple areas. For example, gardening can be cultivating beauty, getting outside, and moving your body. Getting our hands in the dirt and watching something grow and bloom can be very therapeutic and counteract messages of doom and hopelessness.

Right now there are ways to virtually participate in museum tours, listen to opera or other musical performances, even visit parks and zoos, all through a screen.

Questions from participants

  • My mother lives with me and relies on me solely for entertainment and interaction and won’t do things on her own. I also have two grandchildren I watch almost everyday. How do I juggle my life, especially in these times?

Many caregivers are finding themselves with these questions. Home health has ceased or diminished, we can’t attend support groups or spiritual gatherings or other outlets we used to have. This caregiver probably can’t make her mom chose anything different, but there are things the caregiver can make sure she is filling her own bucket. We cannot give out of an empty bucket. This caregiver should make sure she is getting some breaks, has people she can talk to, has some time she can get away, and that she is getting enough sleep and eating right, thinking of her own gratitude. Maybe there is something the mom and the kids can do together, a joint project like painting or growing plants.

  • In terms of staying safe during these times, what kind of questions should someone be asking of a person to come into the home for caregiving support?

First off, it’s important to get the okay from your health care provider. No two people are exactly the same, and your provider will know more your particular risk level category. Next, find out from the organization/ agency what they are doing to take precautions. You can share this with your doctor to make sure this sounds reasonable. Also important is your own comfort level. Some people are more comfortable with no one coming in right now, while others might be more comfortable with what they were doing prior to the pandemic. The CDC guidelines are important to adhere to. We all have to take the guidelines, adhere to them, look at the risks, and find a way to live our lives, and decide with our loved ones how we are going to do that. When we feel like we have no choice, that can be profoundly depressing. Even in a circumstance like this, we all have choices.

  • When you’re with someone all the time now, when you had breaks before, how do you manage the frustration that can come up?

This question doesn’t just apply to caregivers and those receiving care! There are parents homeschooling and couples together who are also asking this question. Being able to recognize and acknowledge the feelings we are having (anger, frustration, impatience) is a step in the right direction.

How can I handle these feelings? Taking a moment to step back, step away, practice deep breathing, going outside, all the self-regulation behaviors can really help here. There is the 4-7-8 breath which is breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, and breathe out for a count of 8 (exhaling longer than inhaling). These can be ways to give our emotional brain a moment, which can help us respond instead of react.

When it comes to caregivers, they can often forget that they have needs that deserve care and attention too. Caregiver strain is real and can be devastating. For having conversations with people we are caring for, Martha Anne recommends coming from a place of respect, honor, love, and kindness. She says to hold the point of view of being on a team and a journey together, with both people needing to be able to go the distance. Often times the person being cared for feels guilt as well, and concern for how the caregiver is doing.

  • What are some things a care partner needs to look out for in regards to their own mental health?

There is an excellent care partner summit that Parkinson’s Foundation hosted in May that is now available to view online and is a great resource (https://www.parkinson.org/Summit).

Ideally, as part of the plan from the beginning, care partners would add in their own support being part of the picture. A lot of times care partners think they can manage on their own, without having to ask for help. Asking for help is a wise decision.  

As for what to look out for, feelings of guilt, feeling ashamed, feeling guilty for feeling guilty, being short and irritated with the person receiving care, and examining self-talk. With Parkinson’s Disease, there can be symptoms that are extremely hard to deal with such as hallucinations, or the person becoming belligerent. The more you can get support and keep yourself healthy and strong, the more you can see what is the disorder/ pain and what is your loved one. We all need someone to talk to. This doesn’t have to be counseling, it can be good relationships, a neighbor, or spiritual mentor. Counseling is a good idea when you find yourself repeating behaviors you don’t really understand and that are causing more problems than they are helping.

“How to Build Resilience While Living with Parkinson’s” or other disorders – webinar notes

With the pandemic, I’ve been reviewing materials received in the past on the topic of resilience. This blog post is about a webinar in January 2019 on building resilience while living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The webinar featured the wonderful palliative care chaplain at UCSF, Judy Long. Though the webinar’s title includes “Parkinson’s,” there is nothing in Ms. Long’s presentation that is specific to PD. Several of the questions are about coping with PD but these questions (and their answers) relate to coping with any neurological condition.

In this webinar, Ms. Long notes that it is only when we notice feeling upset or threatened that we can make a choice about how to respond.  If we don’t notice how we feel we have little hope of making a choice of how to respond and will only react instinctively.  

Through a series of explanations and exercises, Ms. Long presents four obstacles to resilience and tools to overcome each of them through intention and practice.

Obstacles to resilience, or what gets in our way of bouncing back the way we want to:

  1. Not noticing how we feel.
  2. Believing the current circumstances don’t make sense, shouldn’t be happening or are meaningless
  3. Believing I’m all alone and nobody else understands, or feeling isolated
  4. Believing you are helpless and there is no skillful action you can take to change the situation

What can we do to counter these obstacles? There is an opposite to each of these obstacles.

  1. The opposite of meaninglessness is what matters to you most or purposeful positive intentions.
  2. The opposite of isolation is authentic connection with others.
  3. The opposite of helplessness is realizing the choices you have.

Ms. Long offers exercises to overcome these obstacles.

The speaker makes some observations about caregivers:

Even though your inclination may be to handle difficult situations alone, if you do that all the time it is stressful both emotionally and physically and, therefore, unhealthy.  Caregivers tend to fall into this category.

Even when [the caregiving] is difficult and we feel exhausted, it makes a difference to our energy level to remember why we are caring and that it is based on love.  Burnout includes meaninglessness, isolation and helplessness…

Brain Support Network volunteer Denise Dagan listened to the webinar back in January 2019, and shared her notes. (Unfortunately the webinar recording is no longer available online.)

Robin

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How to Build Resilience While Living with Parkinson’s
Davis Phinney Foundation
January 15, 2019
Notes by Denise Dagan
Speaker: Judy Long, outpatient palliative care chaplain at UCSF


We all have resilience but we can always strengthen our resilience so we can sustain demands of caregiving or other stresses.

When we feel something is difficult there can be a sense that something is threatening us, like pain, exhaustion or other discomfort.  We may feel as though we need to fight the threat.  This is due to the fight or flight response, which is instinctive. The alternative is to freeze and not do anything.  There may be better responses that will help us bounce back to a more normal state, as opposed to feeling threatened.

A prime skill that will precede everything else, if you can notice that you feel threatened or upset, that noticing is the most important thing you can do because it allows you to make a choice about how to respond.  If you don’t notice how you feel you have little hope of making a choice of how to respond and will only react instinctively.

Obstacles to resilience, or what gets in our way of bouncing back the way we want to:
1. Not noticing how we feel.
2. Believing the current circumstances don’t make sense, shouldn’t be happening or are meaningless
3. Believing I’m all alone and nobody else understands, or feeling isolated
4. Believing you are helpless and there is no skillful action you can take to change the situation

What can we do to counter these obstacles? There is an opposite to each of these obstacles.
1. The opposite of meaninglessness is what matters to you most or purposeful positive intentions.
2. The opposite of isolation is authentic connection with others.
3. The opposite of helplessness is realizing the choices you have.  

Overcoming meaninglessness is positive intention — positive intentions for the good of others can be values you hold dear, like kindness, patience or love (giving and receiving). The most important thing to you may be your family or courage. There are many options, but it should make you feel positive and that you care about the wellbeing of others.

Exercise: Choose an intention each day.  Try this exercise more than one day to see how it works for you. In the morning, before you rise from bed, choose an intention and try to remember that intention throughout the day.  When you’re speaking with someone and begin to feel stressed (annoyed, etc.) use that as a cue that employ your intention.  See if that intention changes the way you respond to that person and in other situations throughout the day. At bedtime review if/when you remembered your intention throughout the day and how it improved the way your interacted with others.  Decide if you will keep with the same intention the next day or try another (kindness, patience, courage, etc.)

Exercise: Think of an interaction that will happen in the next day that will be challenging and pick a specific intention for that interaction that is positive.  If you hope not to get angry or annoyed, turn it around and intend for the other person to feel loved or that you are being patient, etc.

Overcoming isolation is authentic connection with others — connection is protection. This is true from the time of cavemen.  If we hadn’t connected as early humans, we wouldn’t have survived to modern times.

Many of us want to be alone when we are upset.  Sometimes, we need some alone time to process what is going on, how we feel about it and how to respond.
Even though your inclination may be to handle difficult situations alone, if you do that all the time it is stressful both emotionally and physically and, therefore, unhealthy.  Caregivers tend to fall into this category.

Exercise: Notice if you are going it alone too much of the time and make the choice to connect with someone else. Think about who you can bear talk to even though you are upset and make the effort to reach out to them for input and support.

Overcoming helplessness is to make a skillful choice
. Ms. Long tells the story of a concentration camp survivor who emerged whole and developed a psychological theory of meaning.  Everything can be taken from a person excepting the freedom to choose one’s own attitude in any given set if circumstances and the capacity to act even.

Skillful choices you can make are positive intentions, connecting with others or this grounding exercise.

The psychology of positive thoughts is that even when we have a positive series of negative thoughts, we can overcome them with a series of positive thoughts. The benefits of positive thoughts is both emotional and physical.

Exercise: Toward the end of your day think back over the things you were grateful for.  Try to come up with three things.  Name it and say in your mind specifically what you are grateful for.  Jot down on a piece of paper each thing you are grateful for and why.  Go to sleep.  Repeat this exercise for at least two weeks.  At the end of that time reflect back and see if you notice positive things throughout your day, not just at night.  Where we place our intention is what we notice and how we act.

Example: I am thankful for my hot shower this morning.  I am grateful for the massaging way the water hits my back.

Example: I like my hot oatmeal this morning.  It was tan, lumpy, hot, sweet and lumpy.

Example: I am grateful for my husband/child.  Be specific:  My daughter gave me a big hug when I was feeling sad. I was grateful my husband brought the trash can behind the house.

Grounding Exercise: If you know thinking about your breath makes you nervous, you may want to skip this exercise. Extensively studies and found to bring humans into a calmer state of mind when our nervous system is stressed.
Direct your imagination to your heart area.  Place your hand over your heart to enhance the experience. On the in breath, notice that your chest expands.  On the out breath, notice that your chest deflates.   Pretend you can breathe in directly into your heart, as opposed to your lungs.
If your mind wanders, just notice that has happened and bring focus back to your heart and resume breathing into and out of your heart.

Questions-and-Answers

Q. I have early PD and my husband/care partner has early Alzheimers.  We don’t have close family and I have always cared for him.  We are in our mid-70s.  I am so tired.

A. People in early stages of memory loss can remain in the stage of mild cognitive impairment for quite some time.  The best way to encourage that is to have him continue to do as much for himself as possible, keep socially engaged, maintain your physical closeness and foster an intent of patience and care for each other.  When you do something that is beneficial for someone you care about you benefit, yourself, emotionally.  Part of the caregiving instinct comes from evolution of tribal and parental caregiving.  Even when it is difficult and we feel exhausted, it makes a difference to our energy level to remember why we are caring and that it is based on love.  Burnout includes meaninglessness, isolation and helplessness so these exercises counter burnout.

Q. How do you deal with the reality that PD is your future and will only get harder?

A. I am, by nature, someone who likes to look issues directly in its face.  A little information gathering helps me prepare and realize how it will get worse so you can prepare and plan ahead.  That may include some home remodel or relocation, for example.  Taking action to put steps in place can reduce stress. Alternatively, using the tips from this webinar will help you get through each day and life’s others heartbreaks that have nothing to do with PD.

Q. What about the role of a PD care partner who is more concerned with the illness than the person with PD?

A. My inclination is to meet with one, the other, or both partners one-on-one.  Not being in the room with these people to have a conversation about it, I will share how emotions work.  We need to understand how to meet difficult emotions.  It is hard to be around someone who is experiencing difficult emotions.  Try transparency: at a time when you don’t feel upset about this situation, try telling your partner that you would like to share with them at some point how you feel about having PD and have a conversation about it.

Some people find gathering information is useful.  What you do with that information can be practical and helpful and make them feel in control.  It can also be a way to avoid dealing with the emotions the other person is dealing with.

Q. As a care partner to my friend, I notice he/she (has had PD for 11 years) becomes childlike and needy when I’m around, but not so much when his aides are with him and I am not.  This co-dependence is exhausting.  How do I help him learn to be self sufficient?

A. Think about how you can tell the truth in a way that is kind.  You might say to your friend that you’d like to see if he/she might be able to do ___ on his/her own.

Q. What if the person with PD wants to talk about PD all the time and the care partner does not?

A. Try to redirect toward areas of resilience the person with PD can build for themselves.  Suggest some of the exercises in this webinar.  Do them together. Empathize with their feelings underlying their desire to talk about PD, but redirect to resilient skills or social activities to help them feel more emotionally strong and more healthy.  The gratitude practice can be the most beneficial for everyone, including those with PD.

Urinary dysfunction (urgency, frequency, nocturia) – webinar notes

In early June, the Parkinson and Movement Disorder (PMD) Alliance (pmdalliance.org) offered a webinar on urinary dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease (PD). The speaker was neuro-urologist Jalesh Panicker, MD, who specializes in urinary issues in people with neurologic disorders. While the focus was on urinary problems in PD, since the problems of urgency, frequency, and nighttime urination (nocturia) occur in the atypical parkinsonism disorders, we are posting the notes from the webinar here.

There was also a question-and-answer session following the webinar. Here’s an interesting question and answer:

Q: Is it better to train your bladder to hold a lot of urine, or to go to the bathroom more frequently as needed?

A: For someone with an overactive bladder (OAB), the bladder is often contracting, making you feel that you need to pee. In the early stages, you may have a bit of an urge, but there may also start to be a psychological element. Perhaps you were out at a social gathering and started to feel some urinary urgency, or you were out at dinner and had your first episode of incontinence. This can trigger you to become anxious and start proactively going to the bathroom more often than really necessary, to try to prevent feeling those urges. In relatively mild OAB, it is “mind over bladder,” so that you have more control.

This needs to be done gradually and gently, however; don’t try to hold your bladder for really long periods such as 4 or 5 hours. Instead, try to hold it just a bit longer than you feel like, gradually increasing to a point that seems more reasonable, such as voiding every couple hours.

Dr. Panicker mentioned three non-pharmacological treatments for overactive bladder. Here’s a list of those treatments and some sources for information about them:

This webinar was recorded and can be viewed on PMD Alliance’s YouTube page:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEL8yEfMUSo

Lauren Stroshane with Stanford Parkinson’s Community Outreach viewed the webinar and shared her notes.

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Urinary dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease – Webinar notes
Presented by PMD Alliance
June 1, 2020
Summary by Lauren Stroshane, Stanford Parkinson’s Community Outreach

The webinar speaker, Dr. Jalesh Panicker, is a uro-neurology specialist with the National Hospital for Neurology in London. These are notes from his talk.

There are two sets of symptoms people can experience from the bladder:

  1. Storage symptoms: urgency, frequency, nocturia, and incontinence
  2. Voiding symptoms: hesitancy, straining, interrupted stream, and double voiding

Of these two, storage symptoms are easiest to recognize. Voiding symptoms are not that straightforward and often come on quite gradually over time. An individual might not even realize they are having a problem with voiding and failing to completely empty their bladder.

An important assessment is to undergo a routine, non-invasive bladder scan, using a handheld scanner that a nurse can use to check if there is still urine left in the bladder after the person has voided (this is called post-void residual). Like stagnant water that can attract insects, stagnant urine in your bladder can provide a breeding ground for bacteria, predisposing you to urinary tract infections. Additionally, if your bladder is already holding a significant amount of urine that is just sitting there, there isn’t much volume left to hold new urine you are making. This can contribute to urinary frequency as well.

Why do people with Parkinson’s Disease experience urinary problems?

In the past 15-20 years, urinary issues are increasingly recognized as being one of the most bothersome and common non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). In particular, nocturia (having to urinate several times during the night) and urinary urgency are most troubling. These symptoms tend to increase as PD progresses.

There are different causes of bladder problems, but there is a particular link between dopamine levels and bladder control. Dopamine in the frontal lobe seems to inhibit and suppress the bladder to keep it in check. When there is dopamine deficiency, this inhibition of the bladder is lifted, and one has to go to the bathroom more often. This is called overactive bladder (OAB). 

Those with PD may have other medical conditions as well that contribute to bladder problems:

  • Enlarged prostate, in men
  • Pedal edema (ankle swelling)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Medications, such as diuretics (water tablets)
  • Sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea
  • Cervical spondylosis and myelopathy

Getting up to pee during the night is not inherently a problem; most adults over a certain age will need to get up once a night. But in PD, sometimes an individual might have to get up more than 3 or 4 times in a night, severely disrupting their sleep. Additionally, sometimes a person might wake up for other reasons – such as their levodopa wearing off and causing discomfort – then decide to use the bathroom since they’re awake anyway. This is called a convenience void. Determining what is truly triggering the person to wake up at night is an important piece of the puzzle.

Patients who record the number of times they void during the day and night, as well as the volume of urine produced, show that not only is urinary frequency occurring – they are feeling that they need to void quite often – but also that the volume of urine (called urine output) they are voiding overnight is much higher than during the day. This is called nocturnal polyuria, or producing excessive amounts of urine during the night. Ordinarily, one should produce only a third of the total urine for the day at nighttime.

If a person with PD is complaining that they have to get up to urinate several times during the night, it can be important to determine whether they are having simple urinary frequency, or whether they are experiencing nocturnal polyuria and their body is producing more urine at night, driving the repeated cycles of waking to use the bathroom.

It is important to recognize if nocturnal polyuria is present, as there can be multiple different causes: blood pressure instability during the day, which is common in PD; sleep apnea; medications such as a diuretic; cardiac issues; excessive hydration during the day; and ankle swelling.

New onset incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control, ranging from leakage when you cough or sneeze to failing to get to the toilet in time and having a significant accident. If someone starts experiencing incontinence abruptly, without prior urinary issues, the speaker starts to consider other possible causes besides their PD, which usually progresses slowly and gradually.

Other causes of new incontinence are often reversible:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI): This may show distinct symptoms such as burning during urination, altered urine smell, or fever. However, in PD the individual often doesn’t notice a change despite a UTI being present.
  • Change in medications: For instance, adding an opioid medication for pain relief or a cholinesterase inhibitor used to treat cognitive changes.
  • Recent change in mobility: A fall or hip surgery could represent an alteration of normal mobility.
  • Constipation/stool impaction: This can put mechanical pressure on the urinary tract.

Assessing your bladder function

Your doctor has a number of different options for assessing your bladder. They may use a combination of the following:

  • Ask a few questions
  • Test your urine to see if an infection is present
  • Non-invasive bladder scan to see if your bladder is emptying completely when you void
  • Ask you to keep a diary at home to record:
    • When you pass urine and what volume (this can be measured with a “hat” that sits inside the toilet)
    • When you drink fluids and what volumes
  • Urodynamic tests that actually measure the urine stream in the clinic setting

General measures: Fluid intake

  • Keep a bladder diary
  • Generally recommend drinking 1.5 to 2 liters of water a day (6-8 glasses)
  • Reduce caffeine to less than 100 mg per day
  • Avoid substances that can irritate the bladder, like alcohol, citrus fruits, juices, and soda  

Bladder retraining and scheduling with timed voids can be helpful as well. Measures that improve toilet accessibility can also reduce the number of incidences of incontinence, such as installing a raised seat, grab bars, and pants that are easier to undo. A portable commode can be useful if there are mobility issues.

Pharmacologic treatment

The antimuscarinic drug family is available to help with bladder symptoms, and there is some evidence to demonstrate their safety and efficacy in those with PD. That said, they are not for everyone, and can cause side effects; it is important to have a thorough discussion with a provider who is familiar with PD in deciding which drug to try.

  • Trospium
  • Oxybutinin
  • Tolterodine
  • And others!

Another drug, Mirabegron (Myrbetriq), is a beta-3 receptor agonist and operates differently than the antimuscarinics to increase storage capacity and decrease the frequency of voiding.

Other treatment options

A relatively new but very safe and well-validated treatment for bladder dysfunction is Tibial Nerve Stimulation (TNS), in which tiny needles provide gentle electrical stimulation to a nerve that helps decrease urinary urgency, frequency, and incontinence via repeated sessions in the clinic.

Another option is clean intermittent self-catheterization, which can be a good option for some. Self-catheterization is preferable to maintain the person’s independence.

For others who are unable to perform intermittent catheterization, an indwelling catheter is needed, meaning it is surgically implanted. For those with neurologic disease who are increasingly disabled and experiencing cognitive impairment, a suprapubic catheter is typically the best option. This involves surgery to implant a permanent tube in the bladder out through the low belly.

Pelvic floor exercises done under the guidance of a specialized physical therapist and practiced on your own can help to strengthen and retrain the muscles associated with urination and defecation.

Others prefer to simply contain the urine, whether through absorbent briefs or pads. There are many products on the market.   

Main takeaways:

  • Urinary problems are common in PD
  • It can be very useful to check if the bladder is emptying completely or not
  • Treatments:
    • Check fluid intake and timing
    • Pelvic floor exercises
    • Medications: antimuscarinics, mirabegron
    • Electrical stimulation of nerves (TNS)
  • In some individuals, an indwelling catheter is helpful

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Question & Answer Session

Q: Is it better to train your bladder to hold a lot of urine, or to go to the bathroom more frequently as needed?

A: For someone with an overactive bladder (OAB), the bladder is often contracting, making you feel that you need to pee. In the early stages, you may have a bit of an urge, but there may also start to be a psychological element. Perhaps you were out at a social gathering and started to feel some urinary urgency, or you were out at dinner and had your first episode of incontinence. This can trigger you to become anxious and start proactively going to the bathroom more often than really necessary, to try to prevent feeling those urges. In relatively mild OAB, it is “mind over bladder,” so that you have more control.

This needs to be done gradually and gently, however; don’t try to hold your bladder for really long periods such as 4 or 5 hours. Instead, try to hold it just a bit longer than you feel like, gradually increasing to a point that seems more reasonable, such as voiding every couple hours.

Q: Who is the best type of provider to manage these issues in someone with PD – a neurologist, or a urologist?

A: Unfortunately, not that many people straddle these two specialists like the speaker does. Some people see both types of specialists; you can encourage them to communicate with each other and collaborate about your care.

Q: How can I tell if constipation is contributing to my urinary issues?

A: The patient’s history of how many bowel movements they report having in a given day or week is usually the best indicator. But the bladder scan also represents a good opportunity to assess if constipation may be a contributing factor. When we scan the bladder, sometimes we see a shadow over the bladder that represents a loop of full bowel. When examining the belly, we can often feel if there is a lot of stool sitting there in the intestines.

Q: The penis has become quite small and difficult to hold onto, making it challenging to aim while peeing. Do you have any insight as to why this happens and what can be done?

A: This is a retraction of the penis that can happen. Over time, if we use the penis less and the tissue does not become erect, the tissue can shrink and become sort of buried in the scrotum. For individuals have a prominent foreskin, the penis can be difficult to locate inside the foreskin as well. Not much can be done in these situations, although if someone is not circumcised, it can be an option to undergo a circumcision, which will make the head of the penis more accessible.

His colleagues in France recommend taking a Viagra a day to maintain the tissue’s ability to become erect but there isn’t clear evidence for that, and it is not something he advises specifically for that purpose. Many with PD take medication to assist with erectile dysfunction, but it is not clear whether these would help for penile retraction as well. 

If there are reasons why circumcision is not the way forward, then one could also consider an indwelling suprapubic catheter to aid with voiding.

Q: We hear a lot about men’s urinary problems but not enough about women. Can uterine prolapse cause urinary problems in women?

A: Uterine prolapse is quite common, especially in older women. It is usually quite treatable, either with a pessary (a device that is inserted into the vagina to help maintain the uterus in place so that it doesn’t fall down) or with surgery. Most women who have a prolapsed uterus are aware of heaviness or discomfort in the area. Typically, if the prolapse is addressed, any associated urinary issues should resolve as well.

What can be tricky is if someone with PD sees a urologist for these issues and maybe they have a bit of an enlarged prostate or a bit of a prolapse, the urology team may assume the patient’s symptoms are solely due to this. In reality, their PD may be contributing, and the problem may be multifactorial.

Urodynamic testing can be very useful to tease out the actual problem. This test shows us the pressures and flow of the urine throughout the urinary system, and can indicate where the specific issues are.

Q: What are your thoughts on the drug Myrbetriq (mirabegron)?

A: Myrbetriq is an exciting newer drug for urinary urgency and frequency that works differently than the antimuscarinics mentioned previously, which can cause a lot of side effects such as constipation or dry mouth. Myrbetriq is usually better tolerated by those with neurologic disorders or cognitive impairment, though it is not officially approved specifically for these groups.

It can still cause side effects, however, such as heart palpitations or increased blood pressure. If your neurologist or urologist starts you on Myrbetriq, they should tell you to monitor your blood pressure periodically for this reason.

Q: I saw that “fizzy drinks” should be avoided for someone with urinary issues. What is it about fizzy drinks that causes problems? Is it the carbonation or the caffeine?

A: We don’t know for sure. The speaker suspects it may be the caffeine or aspartame that is often added, but even individuals who just have fizzy water on its own have observed that their OAB is worse. We know that caffeine acts as a diuretic, encouraging our body to produce more urine. Cutting it out may not cure your overactive bladder, but it may significantly help.

Q: What do you think about desmopressin nasal spray?

A: Desmopressin is actually a hormone that is produced by the body that promotes reabsorption of fluid from the kidneys. When your brain secretes desmopressin, your urine production decreases. It is also available in a synthetic version via a nasal spray or a pill absorbed under the tongue.

It is mainly useful for short-term bladder control over 4-6 hours, such as overnight to avoid nocturia. During that period of time, you produce less urine and the bladder doesn’t fill as much. But the fluid has to go somewhere, and so it reenters your circulatory system. For someone who already experiences swollen ankles, has kidney disease, or has any kind of congestive cardiac disease, this can be dangerous. So it’s important if you try this medication to have a conversation about the risks with the prescribing doctor and get your sodium levels checked.

Q: Why does the urge to void increase so quickly? As soon as I think of peeing, I have to go right away! Would biofeedback help?

A: As you go about your day, you are periodically receiving messages from your bladder. Normally we detect the sensations letting us know things are filling up, and head to the bathroom. What happens in PD is that there is an overactive bladder, but also, our perception of sensations in PD is often different. Our response to those sensations may be altered too.

Practicing mindfulness and biofeedback can go a long way to relaxing the bladder and helping you be more attuned to the body’s signals and learn to control your response to the sensations. Timed voiding – such as deciding to go every 2 hours and going to the bathroom at that time whether you feel the need – can also be helpful.

Q: Are there any supplements, such as Beta-Prostate, that you recommend for bladder issues or prevention of urinary tract infections?

A: Unfortunately, there are no supplements that have been shown to help bladder issues. For UTIs, cranberry tablets and D-Mannose may be mildly helpful for preventing the development of UTIs caused by E.coli, but they cannot treat an infection once it is present. Antibiotics would be necessary. Good hydration is important as well, to help flush out the system.

Q: Regarding percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS), is that an option for someone with Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) implanted?

A: As far as he knows, the main DBS manufacturers have all said that this is not a contraindication to undergoing PTNS. If you are concerned, it is best to double-check with the manufacturer of your DBS system, but the speaker believes they are all compatible.

“Oleh Hornykiewicz, Who Discovered Parkinson’s Treatment, Dies at 93” (NYT)

Austrian pharmacologist Oleh Hornykiewicz died in late May 2020. He believed in the power of research on brains of people who had died with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). He and a colleague discovered that these brains were deficient in the important neurotransmitter called dopamine. And he was among several scientists who perfected the treatment of PD with L-dopa. Today, the mainstay treatment for PD is still L-dopa. This recent New York Times article is about his breakthrough research:

www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/science/oleh-hornykiewicz-who-discovered-parkinsons-treatment-dies-at-93.html

Brain Support Network agrees in the power of examining brains of people who have died with PD and other neurological disorders as a means of finding cures for these disorders. If you’d like assistance in making brain donation arrangements for you or a loved one, check out our webpage.