There are many different symptoms of Parkinson’s, and everyone experiences the disease differently. That said, many people diagnosed with the movement disorder find that their symptoms — such as tremors, stiffness, and temperature regulation — worsen when it is cold outside.
This article covers what you need to know about the effects of cold weather on a person’s Parkinson’s symptoms. If you notice any changes in your symptoms with the weather, first and foremost, talk to your doctor. A health care provider will work with you to find the best ways of managing cold-weather-related symptoms and help you maintain your quality of life all year long — even during the winter months.
Cold temperatures can affect people with Parkinson’s disease in several ways. Some people find that they experience more pain when the weather becomes chilly. As one MyParkinsonsTeam member shared about their partner, “This cold weather in Michigan is really hard on him. His Parkinson’s seems not to hurt him so bad in the warm weather.”
Others with Parkinson’s find that they struggle with joints that are stiffer than usual when it is cold outside. One member explained, “I woke up this A.M. with my hand (knuckles and fingers) frozen closed and stiff. I managed to get all my fingers straight and functioning again and was able then, and only then, to begin my work for the day. I am accustomed to this routine now and have come to dread extremely cold days.” Another member shared that cold-related stiffness can worsen their partner’s pain: “My husband has a hard time with the cold weather because he stiffens up his shoulder and neck, and then he experiences a lot of pain.”
Some people diagnosed with Parkinson’s find that their tremors are worse when it’s cold outside. One member said, “The cold winter does a number on my tremoring.” Another explained, “I shake more in the cold. After only a minute or two, my right hand starts dancing like it’s at a party.”
Though it may not come as a surprise, people who experience problems regulating their body temperature because of Parkinson’s may find that these issues worsen when the weather is cold. One member put it this way: “It feels like having a fever constantly. I’m warm for five minutes, then cold, then warm.” Another said, “This winter, I was freezing cold and could not get warm.”
There are several reasons why cold weather impacts people with Parkinson’s. One of the nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease involves problems regulating the autonomic nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system controls many functions, including body temperature regulation.
Some people diagnosed with Parkinson’s have autonomic dysfunction, which makes them sweat too much or not enough. Autonomic dysfunction can cause problems in cold weather because your body may not be able to keep you warm enough. People with Parkinson’s may feel colder than those around them when the temperature drops, which can lead to symptoms like uncontrolled shivering. Some find that the shivering triggers an increase in their tremors, which makes them shake even more.
Some medications for Parkinson’s may also bring on greater temperature sensitivity or problems with sweating. These side effects may be worse when you are first starting a new medication or when tapering off a medication.
You can take steps to mitigate — or eliminate — the negative effects that cold weather can have on your body. As always, ask your neurologist or another health care provider for medical advice when you are dealing with symptoms from medical conditions like Parkinson’s.
Do whatever it takes to keep yourself warm. In the harsh winter months, that may mean remaining indoors. It’s usually possible to get groceries, medications, and more delivered straight to your door. If you can’t get deliveries, there may be people in your life who would be willing to get necessities for you so you don’t have to go into the cold.
Make sure your house is warm enough, too. If you need to, turn up the heat. If that’s not an option, invest in space heaters to heat the room where you spend most of your time during the day and another to heat your bedroom at night.
Heating tactics have helped MyParkinsonTeam members stay comfortable in cold months. One caregiver shared their tips for keeping warm: “I have an electric blanket for my mom’s bed and an electric throw-size blanket for when she is on the computer or eating dinner.”
Wearing the right clothing can be key to managing body temperature. Here are a few ways that you can use your clothing for maximum warmth.
Wear several thinner layers rather than one thicker one. Layering allows you to add or remove layers of clothing as needed — especially if you find yourself feeling chilly or overheated. As one member explained, “My mother dresses in layers when she is cold and then peels them off as she warms up.”
Cover your hands, feet, and head when you are sleeping — especially if you tend to get cold at night or to wake up cold in the morning. That means wear a hat, mittens, and socks if it helps. And keep extra blankets nearby. With those within reach, if you suddenly get cold, you can pull one on right away.
Focus on wearing natural fibers, like wool or cotton, whenever you can. Synthetic fibers like fleece can also help you stay warm but may not do so as well as the natural ones.
The more you move your body, the easier it will be for you to stay warm. You don’t have to exercise (though you can!), especially if you are dealing with pain and other symptoms of Parkinson’s. Just moving around your house, such as tidying up, can get your blood flowing and help your body feel warmer again.
If you’re too cold, think about heating your body from the inside out. Warm drinks like tea and coffee can help you feel warmer, as can soups and stews. In fact, any warm food may help you feel warmer after you eat it. One drink to avoid: alcohol, which makes it easier for you to lose heat from your body.
Make sure you are ready to deal with a cold car when you go out. Wearing extra layers, keeping blankets in your vehicle, and planning ahead can help you stay warm, no matter where you go. Whenever possible, avoid using public transportation as it usually involves waiting while outside, where you are exposed to the elements.
Some people find that the cold does not affect them as badly when they are on medications, such as levodopa, to treat their Parkinson’s. However, at least one study found that certain Parkinson's medications were not particularly effective at regulating temperature. Talk to your doctor about finding the right medication and treatments to manage your Parkinson’s symptoms, including fluctuations in body temperature.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you may find yourself wanting to talk to others who understand. MyParkinsonsTeam is the social network for people with Parkinson's and their loved ones. More than 90,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with Parkinson’s.
How does the cold weather affect your Parkinson’s symptoms? What do you do to manage them? Share your experience and tips in the comments below or by posting on your Activities page.