I just closed the back door, the window in the dining room, the front door, the garage door, and the door between the house and the garage.  From late fall through early spring, this is pretty much a daily routine.  Yes, even in the dead of winter (which is not all that big a deal in Kansas), the doors and windows are opened each evening around supper time. 

During the first fifteen years of Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s diagnosis, no one told us about the hot flashes.  When I asked about them, there was only a blank stare.  Mary Ann went through all the usual hormone treatments — multiple doses.  Nothing worked.  Finally, she stopped taking any hormone therapy.  It just made no difference. 

Finally in just the last few years we have heard sweats listed among the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s.  After a time of feeling irritated that no one had mentioned it before and lamenting all the misguided efforts at trying to treat them, we were relieved to just to know that it is part of the Parkinson’s gifts to Mary Ann.  They are no easier for her to endure, but at least we are no longer wasting our time looking in all the wrong places, trying to find some elusive solution to the problem.

I had heard about hot flashes long before the Parkinson’s.  Since Mary Ann was diagnosed so early in life (45), she went through the normal menopausal hot flashes.  The hot flashes, the sweats, continued long after menopause had completed its transition.  They have never ceased.  As I have felt the heat and changed soaked clothes and wiped the sweat running down her neck, I have come to recognize hot flashes to be much more than a minor inconvenience.  When they come in full intensity, Mary Ann looks as if she will burst into flames any moment.  She radiates heat that can be felt from inches away, as if she were some sort of biological space heater. 

There was a time in the progression of the Parkinson’s when if we had been asked, we would have responded that the hot flashes were the hardest part of the disease to endure.   

When the almost daily hot flashes come on, I need to respond quickly.  If Mary Ann happens to have on a long-sleeved top, it must come off immediately.  She is usually dyskinetic at the time, so changing clothes is no small matter.  Arms and legs are twisting this way and that.  After clothes are changed, the back door, the windows, the front door, the door to the garage and the garage door must be thrown open.  The colder and windier it is outside, the better.  Sometimes I get a wet wash cloth to put on the back of her neck.  Occasionally, she has ended up in the shower trying to cool down. 

As you might guess, summers in Kansas can be pretty tough at hot flash time.  I recognize that the general wisdom is to keep the thermostat no lower than 76 degrees when the AC is on, preferably 78 or 80.  Ours has to go down to about 72 until it feels like a refrigerator when the hot flashes kick in.  The AC works far too slowly to give much relief.  Eventually, either that round of sweats ends or the AC takes the edge off so that it is at least bearable.  Oddly, at other times, Mary Ann can be very cold, hands frigid. 

As a Caregiver, not only do I need to be ready to move quickly to cool her down when the hot flashes come, I need to have nearby appropriate layers for myself.  When it is in the twenties outside with a wind chill in the teens, I need to add layers to keep warm. 

Some of our most harrowing moments have been times that a hot flash has hit while we were driving.   While traveling the Interstate at 75mph (maybe a little more) trying to reach the passenger seat in a van with front seats separated by a console, to take a jacket off a seatbelted passenger who is broiling in her own sweat is a terrifying experience. 

It is not only Parkinsonians who have to deal with the sweats.  Many of those who are in the Spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia online group talk about the sweats, asking if anyone has found some way to control them.  To my knowledge, no one has come up with a solution, even by asking his/her Neurologist.  

The sweats, the hot flashes, are just part of the deal.   They come after the Parkinson’s has been with the family for some years.  As far as I know, no one has pinned down the specific cause of the hot flashes.  Very many of the problems that come with Parkinson’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease Dementia and Lewy Body Dementia do not reveal their etiology, they are reluctant to tell the story of their origins.  So many of the most troubling problems have their roots in both the disease and the medications used to treat the disease. 

Even the most expert in Parkinson’s Disease will admit that many of the motor and non-motor symptoms seem to emerge from some elusive combination of the disease process and long term side effects of the medications.  Without knowing a very specific cause, it is pretty much impossible to find a treatment to control those symptoms. 

As with so many of the troublesome additions Parkinson’s has brought into our lives, the sweats, the hot flashes are here to stay.  They refuse to be diminished by any treatment.  We are left to adapt the environment to accommodate their presence.  So, we open doors and windows when that will work, and we turn the AC down when outside air seems hot enough to initiate combustion. 

Hot flashes or sweats often do come at some point in the progression of Parkinson’s Disease.  Somehow knowing that to be so makes it easier to accept them and spend the limited time and energy we have figuring out how to adapt our environment quickly to diminish the discomfort those hot flashes bring. 

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