A fifth of millennials who have seen someone experiencing physical difficulties in public don't provide help

New survey finds many think it would be awkward

A Parkinson's UK survey has revealed that while more than half of people aged 18 to 34 have witnessed someone experiencing physical difficulties in public, a fifth (21%) said they did not offer the person assistance.

More than a quarter of those who did not offer help said they didn't know what to do, while 16% said they would have felt awkward doing so.

The gender divide was pronounced, with 26% of men in this age group not stopping help and just 17% of women. 20% of men said they would have felt awkward, while just 13% of women said the same.

The findings mark the launch of Parkinson's UK's campaign about freezing, a little-known symptom of Parkinson's that often strikes in crowded, public spaces. Freezing is when a person is suddenly, unexpectedly, unable to move, their feet glued to the floor. It often happens when something interrupts or gets in the way of a normal movement and can get worse if the person is feeling anxious or stressed. As Parkinson's progresses, up to 80% of people will develop freezing and little is currently known about the symptom's causes.

Janet Roberts, 57, has had Parkinson's for 13 years. She once froze while getting off a crowded tube train in London.

She said: "I stepped onto the platform and stopped. I was completely stuck, my feet cemented in place. I was terrified, making the freezing worse, and no one responded to my pleas for help.

"Freezing seems to happen at the worst times: it's rarely when you're safely seated on the sofa. I've heard of people freezing in the middle of a zebra crossing, or at the top of a staircase, off balance."

Eventually, a little boy noticed Janet was in trouble and told his parents to help her.

"If it hadn't been for him, I don't know what would have become of me," Janet said. "If you see someone acting strange, don't assume they're being difficult – they might need your help. For people experiencing freezing, sometimes just a reassuring word is enough to distract our brains so we can get moving again, or a helpful hand can get us out of a dangerous situation."

Steve Ford, Chief Executive of Parkinson's UK, said: "Many people with Parkinson's tell us that freezing is one of the main symptoms that prevents them from living their daily lives.

"Some are physically unable to go to work on any given day, or socialise or do the shopping, while others might avoid these activities for fear that freezing may happen while they're out.

"Parkinson's UK is carrying out pioneering research to address this and other symptoms, but you can help too: if you see someone who is struggling, don’t jump to exasperation, see if they need help. You could be a lifeline to someone in serious distress."

You can find out more about freezing, and other symptoms, at: parkinsons.org.uk.

View Parkinson's UK's campaign video here.


Media enquiries

Please contact Molly Horsburgh, Senior Media and PR Officer, Parkinson's UK:

Notes to editors

  • Survey sample was 2,009 UK adults (18+)
  • Total who said they had seen someone experiencing physical difficulties in public over the past 2 years: 1,090 UK adults
  • Total who said they never provided assistance to those experiencing physical difficulties: 210
  • Survey carried out by Opinium, 30 October-1 November 2018.

About Parkinson's UK

Every hour, 2 people are told they have Parkinson's. It affects 145,000 people in the UK, which is around 1 in 350 of the population.

Parkinson's is a degenerative neurological condition, for which there currently is no cure. Symptoms include tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity, as well as non-motor symptoms such as sleep problems, anxiety and changes in memory.

Parkinson's UK is the UK's leading charity supporting those with the condition. Its mission is to find a cure and improve life for everyone affected by Parkinson's through cutting edge research, information, support and campaigning.