Managing fatigue

Up to half of people with Parkinson’s say they experience fatigue. Here we share tips for managing this symptom.

Fatigue can be made worse by doing too little or trying to do too much. Spreading out or ‘pacing’ your physical and mental activity is an important way to manage the problem.

People who try to cram everything into a short period of time while they have the energy, tend to ‘crash’ afterwards, making their fatigue worse. Other people avoid activity to stop themselves becoming fatigued. However, this also seems to make fatigue worse over time. 

Anything that you can do to manage your stress levels is likely to have a positive effect on your fatigue. Practically this means that there are a number of things you can do yourself to try to avoid fatigue or help minimise it.

1
Around the home

If you live with someone, it may be useful to divide household tasks, so that you do the jobs you can manage more easily.

There are also a number of gadgets and home adaptations that can help you make your daily life with Parkinson’s easier. An occupational therapist can provide expert advice on this.

2
At work

If you are working, it may not be easy to rearrange your daily tasks. Instead, try to take regular, short breaks. This can help your concentration and avoid fatigue building up.

A break can be something as simple as making a cup of tea, having a chat with a colleague, or sitting back for a few moments with your eyes closed.

3
Exercise

Exercise is good for people with Parkinson’s, especially if you experience fatigue.

Fatigue can often trigger a cycle in which you become less and less active. This can happen if your daily activities make you feel tired. But the less you do the weaker your muscles become and the more fatigued you’ll feel.

Exercise can help you manage your fatigue, boost your mood and help you sleep well. The more you can do the more benefits you’ll get. So find something that suits you at the right level and go for it. This could be as simple as chair-based exercise or a brisk walk that gets your heart rate up.

To get started, a physiotherapist can recommend exercise that is right for you. Also, exercise referral schemes may be organised in your local area through your GP, local council or sports centre.

4
Mental exercise

Fatigue is not just physical. Mental exercise is also important so try to stay involved with any hobbies and interests. If you have time during the day, try to do a variety of activities, as boredom can also lead to fatigue.

5
Diet

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important, so try to make sure you are eating a variety of foods.

Some people find that a small snack every couple of hours provides them with a constant supply of glucose, which is used for energy and can help reduce the feeling of tiredness in the short term.

It is also important to try not to become constipated (when stools are hard and difficult to pass), as this can make you feel sluggish. Ask your GP or Parkinson’s nurse if you need help managing constipation.

Sometimes, you may feel fatigued after a large midday meal. A short nap may be particularly helpful at this time and may reduce the sense of fatigue. You could also try having a smaller, lighter meal at lunchtimes.

6
Routine

Try to perform as much of your daily routine as you can by yourself, but take a rest or get help when you think you need it. If you are feeling fatigued, it may help to spread what you do over the course of your day rather than forcing too much into a short amount of time. It’s important to pace yourself – don’t ignore feelings of fatigue.

You may find that even after a good night’s rest you are feeling more fatigued than usual. This may be due to having overworked the day before or it may simply be due to the way your condition fluctuates. Whatever the cause, keep in mind that you will have days when you feel more energetic than others.

Remember, your fatigue won’t go away immediately or completely, but with time and consideration, you should be able to recognise what you can do and when you may have difficulty.

You can then plan your time so that episodes of fatigue are minimised or managed. If you are on medication you can also plan around the times when it is most effective. Achieving a good balance between rest and activity will help you handle fatigue and improve your general quality of life.

Read more about fatigue in Parkinson's.