Exploring the Relationship Between Parkinson’s and PTSD

Exploring the Relationship Between Parkinson’s and PTSD

I was out gathering flowers, peach tulips, and blue orchids. It was a beautiful sun-kissed day. I wondered where I would discover new blooms in the garden.

Out of nowhere, a chasm opened beneath my feet, and I plummeted into unknown depths. Jagged rocks and outcrops tore at me and bruised every part of me. Mind you, this was a virtual game experience. I wasn’t really falling. But it still took a toll.

Days with Parkinson’s disease (PD) are like this. It’s sunny. I stop to smell the roses, have positive expectations, and then something inflames my PD symptoms. Like falling into that virtual chasm, I have to stop what I’m doing and go in a different direction. I call it “PD forcing,” and it is happening more often these days.

A doctor once told me, “All Vietnam vets have PTSD.” A generalization. However, military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a traumatic brain injury have more than double the risk of rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which is a risk factor for PD. RBD can precede classic PD symptoms by years. Researchers at the VA Portland Health Care System and Oregon Health and Science University plan to explore the incidence of PD among veterans with RBD.

Additionally, people with PTSD have an elevated risk of developing PD later in life. Further studies may clarify the relationship between PTSD and PD and the efficacy of prompt intervention for PTSD.

To some extent, I think that PTSD can be brought on or exacerbated by PD symptoms. The symptoms and progression of PTSD and PD are also very similar. For example, symptoms of PTSD include irritability and angry outbursts with little or no provocation, verbal or physical aggression toward people or objects when frustrations or challenges become “up close and personal,” reckless or self-destructive behavior, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, problems with concentration, and sleep disturbances.

Living with the ever-increasing and debilitating progression of PD can be traumatic. Coping through a variety of escape modes and old habits no longer works. Trauma doesn’t just come from military combat. It can come from combat with a chronic disease. The PD thief keeps coming back, stealing another skill or capability — unexpected, unwanted, and unforgettable. I never know where the next chasm will open beneath my feet.

Until now, I didn’t think that PTSD fit my experiences. The PD thief, however, continues to be a source of trauma and is just as powerful as my military experiences in Vietnam.

I could hear my suffering more clearly while I worked on physical healing. I’ve made progress with anger, but every day I’m afraid of being traumatized again. I’ve retreated into a cocoon: a lounge chair and a sedentary life.

A sedentary life is a dangerous one, but I needed time to heal. When I finally ventured into the world, I didn’t feel safe because of PTSD, PD, and vision loss. Interaction with the world results in a regular stream of, “You can’t do this anymore.” It is often overwhelming, and it is happening more often these days.

I know it’s time to leave my cocoon of safety. I know the world is not always painted with the dark palette of the PD thief. The sun still sends her shimmering fairies to dance on the lake ripples. Trees still whisper melodies in harmony with the wind.

Yes, it is hard to motivate myself to move and engage after being sedentary for months. But my gardens will bloom again, and so will I. Like chartreuse bulbs bursting through the soil, signs of wellness are showing up in my life: healed injuries, greater appetite, months spent retraining my eyes to see differently, less pain, and a significant decrease in the duration of vertigo.

I focused on healing while I was sedentary, but now it is time for me to leave the chair.

Moving out of a sedentary life isn’t easy, but the wellness map helps. There is nothing good about a prolonged sedentary life. It is time to get up and show up for the next destination on the map. As we enter the new year, it is time for me to beat back the PD thief and his sidekick, PTSD.


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

I am a retired professor and research scientist along with being an artist, philosopher, writer, therapist and mystic. I am also a husband, father, grandfather, master gardener and Vietnam Vet. All of these roles influence how PD interacts with my life’s journey.
I am a retired professor and research scientist along with being an artist, philosopher, writer, therapist and mystic. I am also a husband, father, grandfather, master gardener and Vietnam Vet. All of these roles influence how PD interacts with my life’s journey.
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    • Dr. C says:

      Hi Gavin ~ It’s nice to hear from you again. I appreciate your continued support and encouragement. I am so pleased when my columns can reach out to the Parkinson’s community.
      Hope you keep checking in to “Possibilities with Parkinson’s” and the Parkinson’s News Today website. Feel free to offer suggestions about topics that I might be able to address.
      Dr. C.

  1. What a wonderful piece of writing, Dr. C! Yes, as you say, moving out is a key to improve but, as you also say, fear to fail is threatening. Reading your chronicle is very encouraging for people with PD and for the ones (as me) who work with PD people! Thank you. Maria

    • Dr. C says:

      Hi Maria ~ Thank you for your comment. Moving out into the world and engaging with the world can be difficult. You as a support resource for PD patients can be instrumental in providing encouragement to engage. Your words about the helpful nature of the column is the fuel that keeps this old writer chugging along. Thanks for following “Possibilities with Parkinson’s” and the Parkinson’s News Today website.
      Dr. C.

  2. Indeed, early signs of turning things around are important. I had a heart attack and two stents inserted…not a great experience. But I decided to improve my life, if possible. I started eating healthier (not the traditional food pyramid with heavy emphasis on grains which I saw on the wall of my hospital room) and added exercise…things have definitely gotten better…

    • Dr. C says:

      Hi Derek ~ I’m glad you are working towards the possibility of well being. Takes hard work and lifestyle changes, as you note. Appreciate you following along in the columns.
      Dr. C.

  3. Phil says:

    Thanks, Dr. C. Welcome home, brother, from a VN-era never-deployed vet. I’ll never know what you went through, but even the training affects you – makes me harder to live with. Thank God for humor, and for my wife, family, & church.

    • Dr. C says:

      Hi Veteran Phil ~ And thank you for your service! It was a tough time for all of us. I can appreciate your comment on the training — but it has served me over the years when things get tough. Sounds like you have a good support system in place. Thanks for reading my column. I hope you find some resources and ideas to supplement the humor, your wife and family and church ties.
      Dr. C. (USMC, 1968-1973)

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