It’s one of those signs adult children start noticing–when their parents begin to shuffle. It usually starts when they’re tired and around their own home because they’re relaxed. As a caregiver, you worry they’ll fall, trip on a rug, or get tangled in their own feet. Is it something to be concerned about?
Yes. Shuffling can not only cause them to fall, but it may be a sign of something else–such as Parkinson’s or some other neurological disorder that’s not allowing the brain and the legs to work together. In fact, there are many diseases that can effect our ability to walk.
When people think of Parkinson’s, they immediately go to the “shaking” visual in their mind. They may “see” Michael J. Fox shaking, fidgeting, moving uncontrollably when he’s being interviewed and chooses to let the world see what “P.D” is like without medications.
But one of the most tell-tale signs of Parkinson’s is rigidity. The brain isn’t producing enough Dopamine, and without that chemical, the electrical connections of the brain and muscles misfires, or doesn’t fire enough. The body becomes rigid.
Does your loved one get up to start to walk somewhere and starts out unusually fast and then starts to lean forward a bit–and you’re afraid they’re going to topple over?
Does your loved one veer to one side when walking? Is one side of the leg and/or body cave in a bit more than the other?
Does your loved one take a few steps and then pause and can’t seem to get moving again? Have you ever noticed that this happens in doorways and when the flooring changes from say, carpet to tile?
These were some of the things I noticed about my mom–that and the shuffling. So we went to see a neurologist. There don’t really give them blood tests or even do a CT scan or MRI to determine Parkinson’s. Our neurologist (my mother’s, but I claim him too–he was a great guy who sadly died too soon) simply asked my mom to walk down the hall outside the waiting room.
The doctor, the nurse, and I watched my mother walk. She was nervous, made excuses, called for me to come help her–but the doctor gently insisted she try.
The doctor prescribed her Sinemet, and we visited him every six months. The medication helped tremendously in terms of allowing my mother to walk and not pause, to not shake as much, but it didn’t make the shuffling go away.
If your loved one doesn’t have Parkinson’s, is there a way to help them not shuffle?
Yes–but it probably won’t make it completely go away. It’s kind of like trying to keep your cat off the kitchen counter–the best that you can hope for and aim for is that the cat doesn’t do this in your presence!
You can remind them–gently and with patience.
You can ask for six weeks of physical therapy (oftentimes they come to your house and your insurance will pay for it if your doctor recommends).
You can attend physical therapy with them, take notes and continue on your own.
There are other diseases that include the symptom of shuffling–MS, ALS, fibromyalgia, arthritis, high or low blood pressure, Alzheimer’s…the list goes on. If the shuffling gets worse, insist that your doctors get to the root cause. Symptoms allow us to ask questions and seek solutions.
Don’t rule out that even though there’s no official diagnosis–there still might be one in the future. I truly believe that as a family member who cares, who pays attention–probably picks up on little clues that occur months or even years before the medical community diagnoses it.
Be sure not to “blame” your loved one or get fussy with them. They truly can’t help this. Face it, just being tired can make me shuffle–I can’t imagine how tired I’ll be 30 years from now!
The bottom line is, shuffling is a symptom, and it could mean something pretty serious–and if you find out what that is, you may be able to help your loved one get the medications and treatments that will help make their life easier. As a daughter, son, spouse, friend and caregiver, it’s our job to be their advocate–to speak up for them when they can’t.
If your loved one is shuffling–be extra aware of throw rugs, table legs, clutter, step-ups and downs. Help them with respect and kindness because hey, we’re all just a shuffle away.