Addressing loneliness and social isolation with chronic illness

Finding others in similar communities or situations can help

Mary Beth Skylis avatar

by Mary Beth Skylis |

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Many of us experience a natural urge to relate to others to create a greater understanding of our existence. Human connection is widely seen as a vital contributing factor to health and well-being. But its importance is often overlooked or undermined, which contributes to a high incidence of loneliness across the world.

Unfortunately, battling a disease like Parkinson’s often results in self-isolation and stigmatization. Due to both shame and a loss of mobility, it can be challenging for a patient to go about their life in what was previously a routine way.

Parkinson’s often is a visible disease that seems to exacerbate these issues. Loneliness can negatively affect health, potentially worsening the disease. The good thing is that feeling lonely is a common human experience, which means that there’s a sense of togetherness in this sentiment, too.

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Not feeling understood

I often see frustration on my dad’s face when it comes to explaining his experience. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013 and is doing everything in his power to keep the symptoms at bay. But sometimes he skips out on events and makes decisions that the rest of us don’t quite understand. And I can only assume it’s because he’s experiencing something that we can’t see.

For example, Dad once explained that he gets anxious and has panic attacks, which can contribute to more intense tremors and a loss of control — not to mention intense emotional distress. After the pandemic hit, these stressors seemed to become even more intense, which made Dad less likely to push his comfort zone and head to local events to build and maintain those important social connections.

If I could open up Dad’s skull and look into his experience, I’d bet that he has some lonely moments. I don’t have Parkinson’s, and I’m still working on my mind-reading skills. But I have a different chronic illness that often leaves me with symptoms I must explain to others. Even when I do, there’s still a gap between experience and comprehension. And I bet that Parkinson’s is probably similar for my dad.

Building or seeking a community

One thing that seems to light up my dad’s face is his Parkinson’s community. After he discovered Rock Steady Boxing several years ago, he realized that he wasn’t alone on his Parkinson’s journey and that others encountered many of the same challenges. His chapter of Rock Steady Boxing has since closed, but he still attends Parkinson’s-specific exercise classes. This seems to help him maintain a deeper sense of connection to fend off loneliness.

What strategies do you have to combat loneliness? Please share in the comments below. 

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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


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