Don’t Judge Me by the Absence of My Smile

Sherri Woodbridge avatar

by Sherri Woodbridge |

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Sherri Journeying Through

Many people aren’t aware of how wide the range of Parkinson’s disease symptoms is. For example, looking at the motor symptoms alone, a patient can have any, or all, of the following: tremors, muscle rigidity, and difficulty walking.

One symptom that is not common knowledge outside of the Parkinson’s community is facial masking, also known as a “stone face.” Patients with this symptom find it difficult to adequately or accurately communicate through facial expressions, so people often misunderstand them.

If you know a person who has Parkinson’s disease and they aren’t wearing a smile, don’t ask them “What’s wrong?” or “Are you OK?” They may very well be smiling on the inside, but have lost their ability to move the muscles that allow them to smile on the outside. The outside, where others can see and where others tend to judge.

Believe me, a person with Parkinson’s is aware of their lack of expression. It is likely that they have encountered someone who has limited knowledge of facial masking and who has assumed the person with Parkinson’s is depressed, unhappy, or sad. In reality, they could be feeling any of those emotions, but there is also a very good chance they are displaying one of the symptoms of Parkinson’s — a masked face.

Don’t gauge a person’s happy meter by their facial expression, even if they don’t have Parkinson’s. How often have you put on a smile while in pain on the inside, whether it be physical, emotional, or mental pain? The opposite is often true for a person with Parkinson’s — they are smiling inside, but they may not be able to convey it.

Remember the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, everyone has a story to tell, so that makes us all “books,” in a sense. So, please, no more judging us by our smiles either (or the lack thereof).


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. 


Dan Freedman avatar

Dan Freedman

Thanks for this. One comment is that people gain insight about others' emotions by looking at their facial expressions at moments where they are not "putting on a face". The candid moments say the most about a person's real underlying emotions.

But not in PD. When we are unaware that people might be watching, and therefore the most vulnerable to having someone draw a conclusion about our emotions, our faces are solemn, long, sad, and so on. It is in these moments that we are, unfortunately, subconsciously judged by those observing us. It is human nature, but our humanity is affected by the disease, and those unaware of it will draw the wrong conclusions. So, thanks for the article.

Sherri Woodbridge avatar

Sherri Woodbridge

Dan - you’re welcome!

joanne nobrega avatar

joanne nobrega

sherri-i am amazed and comforted by reading your articles on Journeying through Parkinsons." i was diagnosed 16 years ago, and like you, have imagined a monster chasing me. also like you, i never get caught because of my faith in God. we also have a mutual admiration for our grandchildren. they wake up my dopamine receptors and right the wrongs this condition , has imposed on me. thank you for sharing your insights and encouragement to keep smiling.

Sherri Woodbridge avatar

Sherri Woodbridge

Joanne - thanks for the words of encouragement. Glad you get to enjoy little ones also!

Sherri Willard avatar

Sherri Willard

I am still in the diagnosis stage but have noticed that what was once a naturally smiley face has turned into a frown. This caused me to look it up and I found your article. I am hoping against hope that I only have Parkinsonism but am encouraged by stories like yours that I will be fine no matter what.
Sherri Willard


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