Taking off my Parkinson’s mask

Parkinson’s can impact the use of facial muscles. Mark shares his experience of having a Parkinson’s ‘mask’, and what helps him manage his symptoms.

“I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2017. Most people are well aware of the motor symptoms of tremor, rigidity and the effect on gait,” says Mark. “But I find non-motor symptoms are the most difficult thing to explain and they affect me just as much.

“I’ve always loved music, for example. I sang in the Guernsey Choral Society, and have always loved playing and listening to music. But I just wasn’t getting the same pleasure from it anymore.”

“Less animated by things”

It’s these feelings of apathy and a lack of motivation which characterise Mark’s Parkinson’s. In fact, his wife Chrissie noticed these symptoms before he was diagnosed, commenting that Mark seemed less animated by things.

At the same time that Mark was experiencing issues, he was also having trouble with his facial muscles.

I remember going with Chrissie to her appointment when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Afterwards, she said I appeared unmoved by it all. I couldn’t understand it.

Friends and family also commented that Mark looked flat and sad. Eventually, he realised his reduced facial muscles were causing him to experience a Parkinson’s mask, which meant he was less able to express himself.

“Adjusting my medication regime really helped”

“I was having problems physically expressing my emotions, but my mental health issues continued to affect me too. So not only could I not move my facial muscles easily, but the feelings of motivation, enjoyment and enthusiasm all seemed to have waned and diminished within me.”

Mark was prescribed selegiline and co-careldopa, which helped to boost his dopamine levels. After a few months, he started noticing improvements in his motivation and the strength in his facial muscles began to return.

“After I was prescribed the right medication, friends and family said I looked much happier, and that I was smiling and laughing more. Adjusting my medication regime really helped.”

Mark also keeps his Parkinson’s symptoms at bay with his local Walsall 5km Parkrun, physiotherapy, and pilates. And he enjoys the benefits of being a member of Parkinson’s UK. 

He says: “I went to the Parkinson’s UK Members’ Day. It was truly inspiring. It made me feel more positive, and I realised just how much help is available. I’m learning to cope with my condition and I’m grateful to have excellent support from my wife, family and friends. I now realise that most things in life are never as bad as they first appear.”

What is a Parkinson’s mask?

We caught up with Parkinson’s nurse Linda, from the Parkinson’s UK helpline, to find out more about a Parkinson’s mask.

In people with Parkinson’s, a lack of dopamine in the brain can stop your facial muscles working as well as they used to.

  • When this happens, people with the condition can look like they have a blank expression, even if they are actually experiencing a strong emotion. The medical term is hypomimia.
  • Having a Parkinson’s mask is a common symptom. But this doesn’t mean someone with the condition is feeling low or depressed – they just can’t use their facial muscles to express themselves as easily anymore.
  • However, many people with Parkinson’s also report issues like apathy and problems with motivation, meaning they may not respond to emotions like they used to.
  • It may seem like there is a link in some cases, but it may be two common aspects of Parkinson’s, happening at the same time. 

Read more about communication problems in Parkinson's.

Helpline and local advisers

Call our helpline to talk to someone confidentially if you’re worried about problems with your facial muscles.  Our helpline and Parkinson's local advisers are here to answer any questions you have about Parkinson's.