Anger & Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s, mood swings, and how to cope.

I got a lot of response to one of my recent Tweets (@PDpsych) and wanted to blog a little follow up:

The best way to drive away those you love is to project your anger w/PD on them. Helping you cope & taking the heat are not the same thing.

I was commenting on a phenomenon many Parkinson’s Disease partners are very familiar with and that I wanted to blog more about as a follow up. Parkinson’s can produce a lot of anger. This anger will not be found on any of the list of “non-motor” symptoms because it is not a direct outgrowth of the neurological change. It is a reaction to having a difficult, chronic disease. Being a little angry about Parkinson’s Disease is a pretty understandable human response. Making someone you love the target for that anger is not.

Parkinson’s disease has no face. When a person becomes angry and frustrated because of its impact, there is no one upon whom one can truly direct these feelings. A person who is not careful may find these feelings discharging anyway. The target is often only a proxy for the PD, an unwitting victim.

There is no one among us who has not had an irritable moment and snapped at someone who does not deserve it. This can happen when we get a little tired, a little hungry, a little preoccupied, a little sick or even a little stressed. This is crankiness and should be a rare event. When it is not, we are looking at an anger problem.

A lot of spouses have indicated to me that the Parkinson’s has precipitated an anger problem in their loved one. It often comes as quite a surprise because the person they live with was kind and thoughtful earlier in their lives. Now they describe husbands and wives who brood about their disease and subsequently become touchy and ready to go off at the least provocation. Some become churlish enough they even deliberately provoke opportunities to discharge their anger.

These spouses describe a life of walking on eggshells and they blame Parkinson’s Disease for creating the raging beast they live with. In this case, Parkinson’s Disease gets too much credit because it can never be used to excuse bad behavior.

I am not aware of any studies that have been done to see how many people with Parkinson’s Disease have anger issues. I suspect from the flood of emails responding to my Tweet that it might be rather common. Some of the posts expressed a great deal of frustration and sadness about abusive anger. None so far have discussed physical abuse but I have been in my business long enough to know that frequent verbal abuse can be as damaging as any blow that might be struck.

If my words sound harsh, it is because lashing out at innocent bystanders because one is struggling to come to terms with Parkinson’s Disease is itself harsh.

If you have an anger problem, please seek help before it costs you the most precious response you have in your battle with the disease-your family. If you are the victim of verbal abuse from someone who has PD, you should also seek help. It is extremely hard living under the threat of an unexpected and undeserved verbal assault.

Dr. Paul

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