What You Need to Know About Your Parkinson's Disease Diagnosis

Understand the first steps after receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, including what to expect and how to tell family members.

By Ability Central

28 March, 2024

A Latina woman in a white cardigan and a white medical mask holds hands with an older Latina woman with curly hair and a bright yellow sweater as they slowly climb the stairs together in a nicely decorated house.

Nearly 90,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in the US each year. If you or a loved one have found yourself a member of that statistic, a new Parkinson’s diagnosis can usher in a time of confusion, stress, and difficult conversations. With proper research and careful planning on your side, you and your family can take on a new Parkinson’s diagnosis together. 

In this article, Ability Central breaks down what you need to know. We answer questions like:

  • What kind of specialist do I need for a new Parkinson’s diagnosis?
  • How do I know that the diagnosis is accurate?
  • How do I tell friends and family about a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis?
  • What do I need to know about mental health concerns and PD?
  • What alternative treatment options are available for Parkinson’s disease?
  • What is the value of joining clinical research?
  • Where can I get more information about Parkinson’s Disease?


What kind of specialist do I need for a new Parkinson’s diagnosis?

The first step in receiving a reputable Parkinson’s diagnosis is to connect with a doctor experienced in Parkinson’s care. There are two common specialists who treat Parkinson’s disease:

  • General neurologists tend to have diverse practices and treat more conditions than just Parkinson’s. A general neurologist can be a great place to start if you or a loved one have just received a diagnosis and want more varied advice. 
  • Movement disorder specialists are experts in Parkinson’s disease, dexterity syndromes, and conditions that share symptoms with Parkinson’s (called parkinsonisms). These specialized neurologists complete two years of extra training in movement disorders. They stay on top of the latest research and information and can make the most up-to-date recommendations for medication and treatment. 

The Parkinson’s Foundation provides excellent resources about the differences between general neurologists and movement disorder specialists. 

When you’re ready to find a specialist, ask your family doctor or primary care provider for a referral. The International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society also offers a specialist directory searchable by location, specialty, and type of care.

If you're not sure where to start, use Ability Central’s Service Locator tool to find a nonprofit organization near you serving people with movement disorders like Parkinson’s.


How do I know that the diagnosis is accurate?

Parkinson’s disease requires a clinical diagnosis, which means doctors give the diagnosis based on observed symptoms and medical history rather than lab or imaging tests. There is no single test to diagnose Parkinson’s, but there are several tests doctors use to confirm a Parkinson’s diagnosis or rule out other conditions.

These include:

  • DaTscan, an imaging scan that gives doctors a detailed picture of the brain’s dopamine system.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain.
  • Blood tests, commonly used to rule out similar conditions. 
  • Skin biopsies, which look for certain proteins that indicate Parkinson’s. 

If results are not definitive, a specialist may prescribe Parkinson’s-specific medications to see the patient's response. If Parkinson’s symptoms improve with these medications, that is another confirmation of the diagnosis. 


How do I tell friends and family about a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis?

The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research describes a new diagnosis as creating a “ripple effect” that directly impacts partners, family, friends, and acquaintances.

Explaining the diagnosis can be a challenge. The Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s says the newly diagnosed should take time to process the diagnosis before telling others.

Some guidelines for sharing a new Parkinson’s diagnosis include:

  • Approaching the diagnosis as a team. Brainstorm a few ways your friends and family can help you moving forward and always remember you’re in this together. 
  • Reassure children but be as honest as possible. 
  • Finding things you can do with loved ones, like group exercise, to give them some sense of control. 
  • Stay optimistic. Focus on new Parkinson’s treatments and success stories. 
  • Set boundaries. People will have a lot of questions for you, but don’t be afraid to take time to think on your own. 

For more information, including guidelines for having conversations about Parkinson’s, visit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research or the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s.


What do I need to know about mental health concerns and PD?

Parkinson’s causes chemical imbalances that can often lead to depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. In addition, the social, emotional, and familial pressures of a Parkinson’s diagnosis can lead to mental health challenges. 

Treating these conditions alongside Parkinson’s takes extra planning to make sure antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and other medications interact well with Parkinson’s medications. 

Certain lifestyle changes can also alleviate the mental health challenges of Parkinson’s. These include:

  • A healthy diet focused on lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and beans and legumes.
  • Adding fiber to combat constipation. 
  • Drinking plenty of water to alleviate symptoms like dizziness and balance issues. 
  • Cardio and strength training to help with balance, motor coordination, grip, and walking speed.
  • Physical or occupational therapy to maintain muscle function as long as possible. 
  • Brain exercises like crosswords, sudoku, puzzles, and trivia to maintain neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to create and maintain neuron connections. 

For more information about Parkinson’s and mental health, see Long-term Care for Parkinson’s Disease (PD): Finances, Treatment, and Your Options.


What alternative treatment options are available for Parkinson’s disease?

Alternative treatments complement traditional medicine to improve the quality of life for a person with Parkinson’s. The American Parkinson’s Disease Association (APDA) says alternative and complementary treatments may include the following:

  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Music therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Herbal supplements

Before beginning any alternative treatments, talk with your primary doctor to verify that it is safe for you and will not interfere with your treatment plan.


What is the value of joining clinical research?

There are three primary types of clinical research:

  • Preclinical studies test the safety of treatment without using humans.
  • Observational studies involve understanding how certain aspects of Parkinson’s affect people’s lives.
  • Clinical trials allow for a new therapy, treatment, or medication to be used on people with Parkinson’s.

Getting involved in Parkinson’s research can be both empowering and impactful. While clinical trials do not include humans until they are considered safe, all trials carry some risk. Talk to your doctor about those risks prior to applying for a program.


Where can I get more information about Parkinson’s disease?

Ability Central offers a series of articles to further your knowledge about Parkinson’s Disease. See:


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