The Pac-Man Cometh: Parkinson’s Disease Gobbles Up Time

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by Dr. C |

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I used to be able to put long hours into just about anything I tackled: research, teaching, helping others, painting, writing, and gardening. But PD gobbles up time, just like the video game character Pac-Man gobbles up dots while chasing ghosts. Although I’m retired, I have less free time to accomplish personal goals, because every day, the PD Pac-Man cometh.

Following is a list of ways the PD Pac-Man gobbles up my time:

  • Bad days and “off periods” requiring a commitment of time to manage.
  • Medical appointments and traveling to them take time.
  • Pain and deep fatigue require more rest to help manage them.
  • Any illness (such as the flu) becomes more intense and takes more time to recover.
  • Heightened emotions along with stress of any kind (good or bad) require more time to manage.
  • The overall rehabilitation plan to address all the issues associated with PD (which I have mentioned in past columns) requires quite a bit of time.

Many evenings, as I get to the end of the day, it feels as if nothing was accomplished. It is a plaguing voice and annoying not just to me. My partner has heard it so many times that the response is now: “I’m going to have that on your tombstone: ‘Here lies Dr. C. He died wishing he got more done in his life.’”

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Tons of magazine articles and books discuss time management. But PD has its own special problems that need to be considered when seeking to apply time management strategies. Think of time as money: You only have so much that you can spend each month. You can’t get back what the Pac Man gobbles up. You can decrease what the Pac-Man consumes by implementing a personally tailored rehabilitation plan. After that, it is important to cherish the time that is available and to allocate it in a meaningful and constructive way.

Misdirected attention is the Ms. Pac-Man of PD. It consumes time in two ways: First, by getting us to be off-task, and second, due to the set-shifting problems connected to scenario looping, we can end up staying off-task. It may even feel quite difficult to get back on-task (see my previous column on apathy reconsidered).

After physical exercise and good medical care, mental attentiveness is the third most important treatment focal point for early PD folks. Like physical exercise, mental attentiveness needs to be practiced daily. This is one of the reasons I recommend virtual reality game-playing.

Capitalize on using the good days, and the good hours in a day, when they occur. Without being fierce about it, jump into those good days and focus on accomplishing tasks that have rich meaning and purpose. At times during the illness, the mind is more lucid. Use those times wisely with directed attention. Be patient and allow those times to arrive.

Be flexible on the mild days. Get done what you can and then be willing to rest. On the bad days (and especially the ugly days), be willing to let it go. As boring as it seems, rest is needed to limit the extent of the bad days.

With these suggestions in place, make a schedule. Make broad goals and then weekly goals. Use those good times during the week to apply yourself with mental attentiveness to those goals. This is a little bit different than saying, “On Monday, I will do this and on Tuesday, that.” Instead, make a flexible schedule that says, “I would like to get this done by the end of the week.” Then, when the good and lucid times arrive, you can apply yourself to getting that weekly goal done. I write these columns that way.

Finally, keeping track of appointments on a calendar (paper, computer, and cellphone) is important. It helps to know when you will be able to apply those good days to your weekly goal.

How does the PD Pac-Man affect your life? What do you do to keep the PD Pac-Man from gobbling up too much of your free time? 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 Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Dennis Myers avatar

Dennis Myers

I am beginning to realize what you verbalize here. Time is gobbled up so easily. Thanks for expressing it and giving some very good guidance.Those ideas seem to work for me when I effectively apply them. The Pac-man interferes with the application of those ideas also. Thanks.



perfect timing!! I have been struggling with new "challenges" especially pain. Your article makes it much easier to deal with considering my type A personality.

living Thearpy avatar

living Thearpy

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Jim Harvey avatar

Jim Harvey

This article was very helpful. I was diagnosed with PD in Aug 2015 with symptoms of tremor, poor smell ability and small handwriting. During my last year of working at home as a medical coder in 2016 I noted that my productivity was terrible -- it would take me 14 hours to get 8 hours of work done. My goals during retirement have included exercising removing clutter from my house, getting rid of unnecessary paper files, being more active socially and working on public policy issues. Fortunately, I do fairly well on the exercise but that it about all. To try to figure out where the time goes I started keeping a daily log called "What I did today." I keep the log on the computer as my handwriting has deteriorated and would be a chore to read. In addition to the day and date the log has two columns -- one for routine activities and one for non-routine/significant activities. Routine activities would include exercise, laundry, paying bills, grocery shopping, etc. (Maybe exercise should be in the "significant" column.) Non-routine/significant activities include social events, organizing my house (de-cluttering), organizing my finances, etc. I estimate how much time was spent on each activity. While this log has not yet made a "sea change" in my effectiveness at least now I don't feel completely "lost at sea" in terms of where the time went. I think that the key way that I lose time is by allowing distractions to cause me to lose focus. So on good days I make a few goals and when a distraction comes along I decide whether to attend to it immediately or to put in on the ever-growing "to do" list. Thanks again for your insights.

Mary Licon avatar

Mary Licon

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