What is a Parkinson’s mask?

Parkinson’s can impact the use of facial muscles. This often referred to as having a Parkinson's 'mask' or facial masking. 

We spoke to Parkinson’s nurse Linda, from the Parkinson’s UK helpline, about what a Parkinson's mask is.

  • If you have Parkinson’s, a lack of dopamine in the brain can stop your facial muscles working as well as they used to. This can limit the amount of facial expressions you have. 
  • When this happens, it can sometimes look like you have a blank expression, even if you're actually experiencing a strong emotion. 
  • The medical term is hypomimia, but it's often referred to as a Parkinson's mask, or facial masking. 
  • Having a Parkinson’s mask is a common symptom.
  • If someone can’t use their facial muscles to express themselves as easily anymore, it doesn't mean they are low or depressed. 
  • Some people with Parkinson’s have apathy and problems with motivation. This means they may not respond to emotions like they used to. It may seem like there's a link in some cases, but it may be 2 common aspects of Parkinson’s, happening at the same time. 

Not only could I not move my facial muscles easily, but the feelings of motivation, enjoyment and enthusiasm all seemed to have waned.

Mark's experiences of having a Parkinson's mask

“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.”

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

At the same time, Mark was also having trouble with his facial muscles.

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. This 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.”

Find out more about rigidity and Parkinson's