Tortoise or the Hare?

Hare Haring

There is nothing magic about a neurology office but it seems to have a miraculous effect on the person with Parkinson’s (PWP).

At home, your PWP may be moving with all the speed of someone trying to walk through the deep end of a swimming pool. It is sometimes better when that person is “on” but even with meds in place it can sometimes be a test of your patience. You are so used to taking a deep breath and telling yourself the slowness isn’t the person’s fault that the words have become a mantra.

Yet you feel as if you have had the wind knocked out of you when that same person is in the neurology office! The tortoise you see at home suddenly takes on the blazing speed of the hare during the walk down the hall. As your partner blazes through all the physical tests the neurologist has on the examination agenda, it is easy to become filled with seething resentment that the PWP isn’t doing this at home. The neurologist is going to get the wrong idea and God knows what that will do to the treatment!

Take a deep breath. Your neurologist is well aware of this office hare phenomenon. What you are witnessing is the difference between peak (or optimum) performance and typical performance. The demands of the medical office, including the request to walk as rapidly (and safely) as possible elicit the best possible speed by the PWP. We all like to please our doctor.

What you see at home is typical performance, a comfortable and sustainable speed that each of us assume as we go about our day. It becomes so routine to us that we don’t think about what we are doing unless we are cued by someone to change the habitual rate. For example, anyone who does not have PD has the ability to run around the house at top speed any time she/he wishes. We don’t for a number of very obvious reasons, not the least of which is that it would get tiring (and annoying to others) very quickly to move at our peak speed.

What you are seeing from the PWP in the home is the comfortable rate that habit and the PD experience have created. It is possible to speed the PWP up at any time with the words “hurry up!) but never for a long period. Like a person running around the house, they are apt to tire quickly with a greater-than-typical performance. Even more likely is that habit is ultimately going to cause your loved one to fall back into the familiar and comfortable tortoise pace at home.

The tortoise and hare phenomenon can be trying for a partner. It is important to put it into perspective by remembering that no one moves as fast as they can all the time. The PWP is often not aware of the difference between medical office and home speed.

Each of us has both a tortoise and a hare in us, whether we have PD or not. Try to remember that the next time you don’t dash around the house when a leisurely pace will do.

Dr. Paul

Return to Home Page

Beating Parkinson's One Family at a Time