(StatePoint) Dan McFarland’s family was concerned when he started taking pictures of clouds and posting them on social media with urgent messages about how they were symbols about the need to repent and get ready for the end of the world. His frequent bouts of paranoia and experience with surprising visions seemed out of character, especially since McFarland was a successful businessman, running one of the largest retirement communities in Oregon, and a retired U.S. Air Force senior master sergeant.
It turned out that these delusions and hallucinations were non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, which McFarland had been diagnosed with years before. For McFarland, these symptoms were harder to manage than the motor symptoms typically associated with Parkinson’s disease, such as tremors, rigidity or slowness of movement.
“My neurologist was able to recognize my non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. Some of my hallucinations and delusions were frightening to me and upsetting to my loved ones, and adjusting my treatment helped lessen this burden,” he says. “To help others recognize these symptoms, I’ve gotten involved in my local Parkinson’s support group, and am sharing my story during April, which is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month.”
Although there is no clear understanding of the exact cause of hallucinations and delusions associated with Parkinson’s, around half of all people with Parkinson’s may experience these symptoms over the course of their disease.
For McFarland, when he first began to experience hallucinations and delusions, he recognized that what he was seeing and believing wasn’t quite real. But it was confusing to him and as his condition progressed, he began to lose insight. For example, his belief that the end of the world was coming was triggered by a brief news story about a sink hole in South America. He also began to distrust family and friends. After his wife left a camping trip early, he became suspicious that she might be trying to connect with an old boyfriend. In reality, she had simply needed a much-deserved break from work and caregiving responsibilities.
Left unaddressed, these non-movement symptoms can impact people with Parkinson’s and their care partners’ ability to make plans with family and friends and even sleep, according to a recent survey conducted by the Parkinson’s Movement Disorder Alliance. Experts say that if you believe you or a loved one is experiencing hallucinations or delusions as a result of Parkinson’s disease, the first step is talking to a movement disorder specialist. You can also go to MoretoParkinsons.com to learn more about what to expect and how to start the conversation with a physician.
While doctors may be able to address non-motor symptoms like hallucinations and delusions, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone is different and for some, other non-motor symptoms may still persist. McFarland continues to struggle with depression and anxiety, which are other common non-movement symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. McFarland sees a therapist to help manage those symptoms. Having a greater understanding of the disease and its possible symptoms has helped the McFarlands deal with them as they arise.
“Opening up about my fears and beliefs led to an improvement in my treatment plan and I’m experiencing fewer non-movement symptoms,” says McFarland. “I hope that my story will encourage others to recognize these symptoms in themselves and others, because there are options to help.”