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Relationships and Family Life

Whether you have Parkinson’s or care for someone with the condition, Parkinson’s may affect your relationships. This can happen at any stage throughout the progression of the condition. Relationships between partners or family members, including children and grandchildren, are those most likely to be affected.

While not everyone with Parkinson’s will find that their relationships are affected, the condition can affect mood, self-image, and communication with others.

Differing reactions and expectations following diagnosis and throughout your Parkinson’s journey can also have an impact. Some people have relationship issues when they’re adjusting to diagnosis, while others may run into problems after many years. 

This section covers:

Partner relationships

Many people say that coping with Parkinson’s and sharing the journey with their partner has made their relationship stronger. However, some relationships may be affected by the following issues:

  • How each partner reacts to the diagnosis
  • Changing roles in a relationship, such as becoming a carer
  • Expectations of how someone might be affected by Parkinson’s
  • Communication problems caused by the condition
  • Self-image and feelings of social isolation
  • Symptoms of Parkinson’s
  • Emotional changes, such as stress and anxiety

Useful tips 

Ways to cope with relationship changes with your partner include:

  • Take any opportunity to reverse the caring role
  • Maintain a sense of independence, by allowing yourself to have some alone time
  • Set aside time to participate in activities where you can be equals, such as socialising with friends
  • Keep communicating with each other
  • Seek help and support if you are having trouble working through the changes; social workers, counsellors, psychologists, Parkinson’s nurses and occupational therapists may be able to offer you support
  • Talk to other people with Parkinson’s who have been through problems like yours; peer support groups can be good for this
  • Seek help before you reach breaking point
  • Call the Fight Parkinson’s Information Line on 1800 644 189 to discuss your concerns and the possible supports available to you

Relationships with children

How children respond to being told about Parkinson’s varies from child to child. Some children may experience sadness. Other children may act as if nothing has changed. Regardless of how they respond it is likely that all children will have questions about Parkinson’s. 

Useful tips 

It is a good idea for you to think about how you will tell your children and/or grandchildren, and what information you would like to share with them. Most importantly, you will need to be open and honest. You may also like to consider the suggestions outlined below:

  • Do not hide the condition; children may worry more about what they do not know than what they do know
  • Do not keep your condition a secret; tell your children soon after diagnosis and be willing to talk with them again on other occasions
  • Explain Parkinson’s simply; it may be useful to explain it in terms of how it affects you from day to day
  • Be clear and specific, and try not to assume anything
  • Encourage children to talk to you about the condition and to come to you when they have questions
  • Do not tell children too much at once; give them the important information first and then provide opportunities for them to ask questions in their own time.

Intimate relationships

Finding out one of you has a life-changing condition can change your view of your physical relationship. It may be less or even more important than before, as you feel you need to make the most of your time together for fear of less ability.

Sexual problems can affect either the person with Parkinson’s or their partner.
A person with Parkinson’s may have sexual problems due to the physical effects of the condition on things such as co-ordination and speed of movement, or emotional issues such as low mood or depression.

Sexual problems

Difficulties with sex happen when something disrupts your sexual responses. This can affect many people, not just those with Parkinson’s. But the physical ability to have sex is affected by the nervous system, so it is common for people with neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s, to experience problems with sexual function. The likelihood of experiencing problems does increase with age. 

The four most common sexual problems for people with Parkinson’s are:

  • Loss of sexual interest or desire (reduced libido)
  • Sexual pain (in women)
  • Problems with arousal (poor or absent erections in men, or in women, lack of sexual excitement or problems with genital arousal, such as vaginal swelling or lack of lubrication)
  • Problems reaching orgasm or ejaculation

For people with Parkinson’s, the physical symptoms of the condition, such as stiff, rigid muscles and slowness of movement, can mean you have to make changes to the way you have sex.

Hyper sexuality 

Hyper sexuality is a type of impulsive and compulsive behaviour, where someone is focused on sexual feelings and thoughts. Some people who take dopamine agonists experience impulsive and compulsive behaviour. For a small number of people, other types of Parkinson’s medications, in particular levodopa , have been shown to have similar side effects.

Click here to read more about medication side effects.

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