I text and word process. However, technology has not replaced my need to occasionally sign my name on a check or to fill out a form in the doctor’s office. Neither has technology smothered my desire to send handwritten cards and letters to my friends and family. However, Parkinson’s has affected my ability to write legibly 24/7. Micrographia, known as small and cramped handwriting, is the reason as presented in a recent blog “Can You Read My Tiny Handwriting?” But the good news is that some people with PD can write well when on medication, and many can learn to write all over again by practice, exercise and therapy.
Writing Tools and Supplies
Select the appropriate writing instrument for your needs. Gel pens flow easily across the page and are less likely to grab at the paper. Do you prefer light, medium or heavy tips? When you shop for a pen, hold it as you will when writing. Is the grip comfortable? Is the pen slippery? Do you prefer a rubber grip? Consider the weight of the pen. If you tremor, a heavy weight pen may work better for you.
Consider the use of lined paper to guide you in writing straight. Large lined paper will also make writing easier as you fill in the lines with letters. As writing improves, you can graduate to normal spaced lines or no lines! You may always prefer placing lined paper under the plain top sheet as your secret writing crutch.
Gather up items that relate to your writing project such as addresses, return labels, stamps, cards, stationary, lined paper and checkbook.
What Works for Me
I opt for a medium point gel pens over ballpoint pens. Shopping for pens is a fun activity for me. I like to write in colors such as green, turquoise, navy blue and red. I do not have tremors, so a regular weight pen is fine. I use lined paper in spiral notebooks to write everything from poems to doctor’s remarks to webinar notes. The lined paper tip reminds me of what I have done for students with high test anxiety especially on essay questions. I draw a box and ask them to write in the box which is less intimidating than a blank page. The same premise is true when learning to write again. While researching this blog topic, I found a complimentary 3-page download on “Improve Your Cursive Worksheet” designed by Lindsey Bugbee. I can tell already that it is a terrific tool. I remember similar paper from Mrs. Cole’s first grade class to help with placement and size of letters! Finally, getting up and down multiple times to find an address or a postage stamp is distracting. So I prepare in advance.
Where to Write
Set up on a flat surface such as desk or tabletop and not your lap. A firm chair is preferable to provide support and to encourage you to maintain good posture (another problem area for Parkinson’s people). Consider times of the day that you may be distracted by noise such as lawn service or by family members. If you find soft background music soothing, set up before starting to write. You should also consider location to ensure you have the advantage of natural light.
What Works for Me
I often write in the dining room where the view overlooks the patio, pool and tropical landscape. I sit as straight as possible at the dining room table. The dining chair works well and and provides firm support. The lighting is appropriate. This location is a change of pace from my third story office. Morning distractions include services such as the housekeeper, lawn crew and pool guy; however, these are manageable. I need quietude when I am writing.
When to Write
Plan to write when you are in peak performance, that is when your meds are working and you are not having an “off period.” You will be happier with the end product and less frustrated. Do a few simple warm-up finger, hand and shoulder exercises before starting to write. Before signing your name on the get well card, doodle first on a scrap of paper. Write for short periods of time, take a break and resume writing. Avoid writing at the end of the day when you are tired and your meds are about used up for the day. Day rather than evening may be preferable for your writing projects.
What Works for Me
I do my handwritten notes and letters in the morning unless service companies are a distraction. I am well rested and dopamine is flowing freely through my brain from my morning dose of carbidopa levadopa and Azilect. My mother suffered from arthritis. Sometimes it took her several days to finish her handwritten letters to me. I can still hear her comment, “I’m no good today.” Sometimes that’s the way it is living with Parkinson’s. Finger exercises such as opening and closing hand and shoulder shrugs help me warm up before writing. I double check that I am in top writing form by doodling and writing a few words.
If you are signing a myriad of forms or checks every month, consider having a rubber stamp made. Pre-printed inserts may be the way to go for such writing as a holiday letter. Instead of writing, you may need to word process a note or letter and only hand sign your name. Imprinted return labels are easily made. Watch for marketing from associations who include labels for your use in hopes of donation. Some people with Parkinson’s print better than they write. Some also report that when they close their eyes, they write legibly.
What Works for Me
I use a pre-printed thank you form to tuck into my customers’ purchases for my eBay business. I hand write their name at the top and sign my name on bottom. I add a couple of handwritten sentences to customize. When I write to friends, I usually word process the letter since it is often a couple of pages. I purchased a voice activated software system in 2015 when I had some Parkinson’s challenges. But as my medicine was tweaked and I practiced handwriting therapy, I decided this adaptation was premature. So I sold the software! I print as often as I write. Writing with my eyes closed does not work for me!
Practice, practice, practice. According to occupational therapist Uzma Khan, writing one practice page daily can help you manage and improve your writing. Do the daily writing in a dated journal so you can review your progress. Think big when you are writing. Exaggerate the letters. Before you start writing, do some finger stretches. Set an alarm for ten minutes and start writing the months of the year or names of relatives or lines from a book. Alternate between cursive writing and printing. Your printing may be far better. Every two to three minutes, you can rest for a few seconds.
Strength and flexibility exercises for your hands, fingers and wrists should be part of your routine. Squeeze your fists and hold for ten seconds. Flick your hands open and stretch your fingers as far as part as possible. Squeeze a ball or hand grip. Wring out a wet cloth and have someone else wring it to see how much water you left. Shuffle and deal cards. Play jacks. Google Parkinson’s handwriting exercises, and you will find many YouTube videos and other therapy resources. They are easy and fun to do. Positive results are possible.
Dr. Sarah King, PT, DPT at Invigorate recommends a Hand Booster exercise to help writing. Do as follows: (A) Clench a strong fist, then spread your fingers wide apart. Repeat 10 times on each hand. (B) Touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of each finger consecutively. Repeat 10 times on each hand. (C) Spread your fingers wide in a “stop” position, then push your palm down flexing at the wrist. Repeat 10 times on each hand.
What Works for Me
I think big letters when I write. Or I say “write big” just as I might say “heel toe, heel toe” if I am not walking properly. I no longer do a one-page written/printed practice page daily—only when I decide I need a refresher course! My yoga teacher has me write the alphabet letters in the air with my feet doing both print and cursive. I do the same with my fingers. I tap my fingers together as fast as I can, squeeze a ball in my hand, wring a wet cloth and open and close my fingers. I raise and lower my wrists. These exercises and more can be done while I watch television, stand in line in a store or sit in stalled traffic.
How are you learning to write again?