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Fatigue in Women with Parkinsonís Disease

Fatigue, an overwhelming, and constant sense of tiredness, is a common, disabling, symptom of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Now a study published online March 20 in the journal Qualitative Health Research reports common ways women with PD experience fatigue. This knowledge could help doctors and family members understand and support women with PD who have fatigue.

Although fatigue is not one of the commonly recognized symptoms of PD, such as tremor or slow movements, it can present just as many challenges to daily life. Different than feeling tired, it does not respond to rest or sleep. Because people experience fatigue in different ways, many health care workers fail to recognize this symptom in people with PD.

To better understand how women with PD experience fatigue in their everyday lives, researchers led by Malin Olsson, Ph.D., at Luleå University of Technology, in Sweden, interviewed 11 women (age 45–64 years) with PD and fatigue. The researchers asked the women to discuss their experiences with fatigue and its impact on their daily lives. Dr. Olsson and her coworkers recorded the interviews and studied the resulting transcripts, trying to identify common themes in how the women experienced fatigue.

Results

  • The women said their fatigue was hard to describe, and that other people had difficulty understanding their condition. The fatigue affected the women’s relationships, leaving them feeling socially isolated.
  • A common theme among the women was that they viewed their body as a burden. They felt paralyzed by inertia and physical weakness. The women had the will to be independent and to accomplish everyday tasks, but they lacked the energy. They felt the need to rest or sleep during the day, but their fatigue did not go away after resting.
  • A second common theme among the women was they were striving to get used to an unfamiliar body. Their fatigue was always present, but variable in intensity, making it difficult to plan their day. The women also struggled with feelings of absent-mindedness. They felt like fatigue slowed their thinking, their decision making, and their ability to find the right words to express a thought. The women felt like they needed to accept their fatigue and adjust their lives to the new situation, although they occasionally had good days when the fatigue was easier to manage.

What Does It Mean?

Along with the more familiar motor symptoms of PD, many people struggle with feelings of fatigue. However, when treatments for fatigue have been formally studied in PD, they have not shown significant results. Of all the treatments studied so far, it is noteworthy to mention caffeine and modafinil, which is a medication that is used for fatigue in people with multiple sclerosis or experiencing jetlag.

This study sheds new light on how women with PD experience fatigue in their daily lives. A common theme is that the women viewed their body as a burden because they could no longer accomplish everyday tasks such as housework, showering, or caring for children or grandchildren. A second common theme is that the women strove to get used to an unfamiliar, and often unpredictable, body. The fatigue interfered with their social activities and their ability to plan ahead, since they never knew how they would be feeling on a given day or even at different times during the same day. However, occasional good days gave the women hope that their fatigue could someday improve.

The purpose of this study is to characterize fatigue in women with PD. However, the small sample size (11 women) and its focus on qualitative information prevents generalization to all women living with PD. Therefore, the study should be repeated for larger groups of women and at other medical centers. Another possible limitation is that the researchers may have had preconceived notions of the meaning of fatigue, coloring their perceptions of common themes.

This study suggests that fatigue in women with PD is different from ordinary tiredness in healthy women. Fatigue for women with PD interferes with their daily lives and their interactions with the surrounding world. These differences may explain why treatments and therapies that usually help tiredness do not always help in PD. Increasing awareness of fatigue in PD will help health care workers and care partners better understand and support people living with PD. Better understanding of the nature of fatigue in PD may help researchers develop treatments for this disabling symptom.

Learn More

If you have additional questions about fatigue and Parkinson's, contact PDF's HelpLine at (800) 457-6676 or info@pdf.org, or use our free resource below.

View PD ExpertBriefing: Fatigue, Sleep Disorders and Parkinson's Disease

 

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Source Date: Apr 11 2013